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Jen Rosio, University of Utah Health
How to Support Your Teams When Bad Things Happen
Resiliency Center Director Megan Call and Chief Wellness Officer Amy Locke share evidence-based discussion points and strategies for leaders to support their teams with during challenging times.

hen something bad happens whether it is out in the world or at work, it can be hard to know the right thing to say. News channels have always shared a stream of violence, yet over the last few years it can feel closer to home. And when our communities experience trauma, health care workers feel those effects, too. This is in addition to the already common experience of traumatic events in healthcare. Across clinical spaces, healthcare workers see health and healing, but we also see death and dying. We see mistakes happen, we make difficult decisions and the outcomes aren’t always as expected. People are people. Sometimes we get angry and say things we shouldn’t. Much of our work is out of our control. This occupational trauma (trauma that happens at work) can be hard to manage. In the long run, they can contribute negatively to our mental health. There are, though, ways to help ourselves and our teams manage these stresses and support each other in the process.

The following is a compilation of evidence-based discussion points and strategies for leaders to empower teams to better cope with the avalanche of adverse events that are an inevitable part of working in health care. informed by the collective wisdom of the last two years. In other words, we’ve been here before. We’ve learned what works and what doesn’t—and we’re happy to help.

In short, we can help. There’s hope and relief in the collective wisdom of our peers and the solidarity of our teams.

Talking points for after an adverse event

Name It

  • Acknowledging our experience helps us calm our nervous system. 

  • Naming the emotions that many of us are experiencing (exhaustion, fear, anxiety, anger) helps us feel seen and heard.  

  • Be transparent and feel free to acknowledge our current situation in the broader context of things, but do not explain how everything will be better soon.  

  • Uncertainty remains regarding future disruptions. 

Be Realistic

  • We may overwhelmed. We may not be able to hold ourselves to our usual standards. We can encourage people to do what they can—and that will have to be enough.  

  • Give people permission to not be perfect with every task. 

Be Thoughtful
  • Stop and pause. When crises occur, we tend to be reactive and try to fix as much as we can at once. This comes from a place of caring but sometimes makes things worse.  

  • Give yourself space to make thoughtful decisions when possible. (See the “What can I do for my team?” section below.) 

Be Accountable
  • Even in a crisis, we can be accountable for our words and actions.  

  • Acknowledging when we’ve made a mistake and apologizing will go far. We will all mess up, especially when we’re exhausted.  

  • Accountability is essential during a crisis, but it doesn’t have to be punitive.  

Connect with One Another
  • Encourage people to check-in with one another to make sure they are doing ok and feeling supported. For example, throughout the COVID pandemic, teams that feel connected often have done better.

  • Model by listening and understanding the concerns of your team and, if possible, address their concerns. 

Care for Yourself
  • It starts with you. To be maximally successful, we have to continue caring for ourselves. It is what will save the most lives and do the least damage in the coming weeks.    

  • Share how you are taking care of yourself to give your team permission to do the same.  

  • Engage in discussion around self-care (whether that is exercising, getting enough sleep, or using the bathroom during a shift) to normalize behavior. 

What can I do for my team?  

There are three key ways to help a team. The following seven questions can help prioritize and guide action. The first five are particularly useful in times of crisis.  

Connect as humans and build trust

Questions to ask Why it helps
1. Does your team feel a strong sense of connection? Connection is a key ingredient for groups that are doing well.  
2. Does your team feel supported (by you, each other, the department/ system)? Do they feel seen, valued, and heard?   Communication, recognition and support can occur in many ways.

Recognize and talk about occupational trauma

Questions to ask Why it helps
3. Do they have an opportunity to debrief about their experiences?  Reach out for help from the Resiliency Center if needed. 

Empower the team to make things better

Questions to ask Why it helps
4. Does the department/division/clinic have the resources needed to succeed?  Be an advocate for resources even when resources are scarce. Allow yourself to be creative
5. Are you able to identify the biggest obstacles for your group?  Pick one issue to work on (not fix) to address an upstream driver of burnout/ dissatisfaction. 

6. Are you discussing professional development in a coaching framework?

Support a connection to purpose that also has a direction
7. Are your people empowered to change what is in their local area of control? Provide a framework to allow autonomy for everyone to pitch in.

What if someone on my team is really struggling?  

There are a wealth of resources available for those in crisis or in urgent need of help. As always, stay connected by visiting the Resiliency Center updates on Pulse.

Crisis Resources 

Huntsman Mental Health Institute (HMHI) 

  • Crisis Line: 801-587-3000, available 24/7, 365 days/yr 

  • Warm Line: 801-587-1055, available 8am-11pm, 365 days/yr 

  • SafeUT Frontline: 801-372-3335 or https://safeut.org/frontline 

Employee Assistance Program  

  • Phone: 801-262-9619, this is also a crisis line 24/7, 365 days/yr 

  • Daily Crisis Appointments Available, includes 1-hour/day at the Resiliency Center 

  • CALL AHEAD to schedule an appointment, do not walk-in 

National Crisis Call & Text Lines 

  • Call 800-273-8255 

  • Text HOME to 741741 

Urgent Resources 


Megan Call

Licensed psychologist, Director of the Resiliency Center, University of Utah Health

Amy Locke

Family Physician, Chief Wellness Officer and Executive Director, Resiliency Center, University of Utah Health

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