Since Wednesday morning, many of us will have been following the news of the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower in west London. Since the news broke and the scale of the disaster became apparent, social media and public forums have been inundated with offers of help for those involved, from food, clothes and shelter to pro bono legal advice. Many local businesses have opened their doors either to those directly involved or to act as a collection point for supplies.
On Thursday 15 June, I saw a tweet offering legal support to anyone who experiences issues as a result of not being able to work in the short term. While work will undoubtedly be the last thing on the minds of all those affected, this led me to wonder how many of their employers are supporting staff impacted by the disaster.
Such disasters are so far outside of the realms of most employee benefits packages, many employers will have had to think on their feet in terms of supporting an individual’s needs. At a very basic level, for those living in the tower who escaped unscathed, immediate needs will be food, clothing and water. Many will also have no money on their person and no way of accessing bank accounts. Could employers, therefore, help with emergency loans or sourcing accommodation for employees?
In both the short and longer term, the emotional and psychological impact will understandably be much more difficult to deal with. This is where an employee assistance programme (EAP) or access to more specialist counselling services can help.
Approaching individuals to offer support, however, could mean employers face some difficult conversations. Depending on the culture of the organisation, line managers’ relationships with their staff, and so on, this could mean that some employers shy away from doing so.
Taking the bull by the horns and initiating such conversations, no matter how difficult, however, will be vital if employers are to provide what support they can. In some cases, this will be even more difficult, for example, if an employee has been injured as a result of the incident or suffered a bereavement. In these cases, even if employers do not feel that immediate contact is appropriate, further down the line the support they can offer may well be appreciated by the employee.
Employees who have not been directly caught up in such a disaster but who may have friends and family who have been should also be considered by employers looking to provide support. It may be that they do not feel able to let line managers or colleagues know what they are dealing with, so creating an open culture and clear communication channels is vital if they are to feel comfortable asking for support should they need to.
Whatever support employers provide, however, the scale of the disaster means that this is likely to be just the tip of the iceberg in meeting individuals’ needs over the coming months and years. While they may well turn to other sources of help and support, shouldn’t employers take on some responsibility for offering support for staff during the toughest of times?