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Protecting the psychological wellbeing of staff exposed to disaster or emergency at work: a qualitative study

Publication date: 

10 Dec 2019


BMC Psychol 7, 78 (2019) doi:10.1186/s40359-019-0360-6


Brooks SK, Dunn R, Amlôt R, Rubin GJ & Greenberg N

Publication type: 



Background Disasters are becoming more prevalent across the world and people are frequently exposed to them as part of their occupational groups. It is important for organisations to understand how best to support employees who have experienced a trauma such as a disaster. The purpose of this study was to explore employees’ perceptions of workplace support and help-seeking in the context of a disaster. Methods Forty employees in England took part in semi-structured interviews. Thematic analysis was used to extract recurring themes from the data. Results Participants reported both positive and negative psychological outcomes of experiencing a disaster or emergency at work. Most had little training in how to prepare for, and cope with, the psychological impact. They perceived stigma around mental health and treatment for psychological issues which often made them reluctant to seek help. Many reported that the psychological support available in the workplace was insufficient and tended to be reactive rather than proactive. Interpersonal relationships at work were viewed as being important sources of support, particularly support from managers. Participants suggested that psychosocial training in the workplace could be beneficial in providing education about mental health, encouraging supportive workplace relationships, and developing listening skills and empathy. Conclusions Organisations can take steps to reduce the psychological impact of disasters on employees. This could be done through provision of training workshops incorporating mental health education to reduce stigma, and team-building exercises to encourage supportive workplace relationships.