Your guide to managing a crisis

Learn about the short-term, intermediate and long-term phases of a crisis, what to expect and practical ways to support your people and customers. You can also view as a PDF.

Phase 1:
Phase 2:
Phase 3:
Phase 4:
Phase 5:
Phase 6:

Before you get started: self-care for people leaders

Supporting employees involved in a crisis can be rewarding but also challenging and stressful. It is not uncommon for people leaders to feel stressed, distressed, tired, overwhelmed, troubled, or frustrated in the course of this work.

Self-care is especially important while supporting others during times of crisis. Focus on:

  • Trying to take time to eat, rest and relax—even for short periods
  • Trying to keep reasonable working hours so you don’t become too exhausted
  • Consider dividing the workload among your peers to evenly spread the emotional load

Consider accessing your internal EAP services if required or specific Mental Health Support for those affected by events such as bushfires.

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Phase 2: Impact

This impact phase of a crisis is characterised by anxiety, fear and a range of intense emotional reactions as people cope with the initial disaster. This phase is typically short.

How people are feeling

  • Shock
  • Panic
  • Confusion
  • Disbelief
  • Self-preservation
  • Emotionally numb

How you can provide support

  • Understand workers are likely to be distracted, and don’t expect 100% productivity
  • Where possible, provide flexibility for workers requiring time off, needing to work remotely, or seeking reduced hours
  • Consider providing additional personal leave if that’s a practical option for your business
  • Re-send details of your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to ensure people know they have someone safe to talk to. Lifeline (phone 13 11 14) is a good option if you don’t have an EAP
  • Administer psychological first aid


  1. Peer Support booklet

Psychological First Aid (PFA) is a useful first response to use with employees impacted by a crisis or traumatic event. It is most widely used in the first hours, days and weeks after an event.

PFA is based on an understanding that people affected by a crisis will experience a range of early reactions (physical, psychological, emotional, behavioural) that may interfere with adaptive coping. These reactions are normal and understandable, and their recovery may be helped by the provision of PFA.

Some people may require further support and mental health interventions to facilitate recovery, but many people recover well on their own, or with the support of compassionate and caring disaster responders, family and friends.


Check for people who require support

  • Are employees presenting with personal concerns regarding the crisis?
  • Are employees demonstrating signs of compromised mental health?
    This could include increased absenteeism, presenteeism or performance-related concerns, abnormal emotional outbursts crying/anger.


Approach people who may need support

  • Approach employees respectfully and according to cultural norms
  • Ask if they require support
  • Access a private safe place to talk

Ask about the people’s needs and concerns

  • Address any obvious needs, for example, if an employee is crying or angry
  • Always ask about their needs and concerns – do not assume you know
  • Find out what is most important to them at this moment
  • Help them work out what their priorities are

Listen to people and help them to feel calm

  • Do not pressure the person to talk
  • Listen in the event the employee wants to talk about their personal circumstances
  • If they are very distressed, help them to feel calm and try to make sure they are not alone. Connect them with professional support such as your EAP or Lifeline


Help people address basic needs and access services

  • Learn what specific needs employees have and try to link them to available assistance

Help people cope with problems

  • Help identify their most urgent practical needs (i.e. taking a break, transportation home)
  • Help the person identify support people inside and outside of work
  • Give practical suggestions for people to meet their own needs (e.g. how to register for community leave if required)

Give information

  • Find out where to get information and updates pertaining to the crisis
  • Try to get as much information as you can before approaching people with support
  • Keep informed through Emergency Services updates

Connect people with loved ones and social support

  • Help people to contact friends or relatives and stay connected
  • Help employees to access professional support if required through your EAP or specific support services offered by the Australian Government


Not sure where to start? Our workplace mental health experts are here to help you.

Book a 15 minute chat