Additional tips for governance/senior leadership

When supporting the supporters in disaster recovery, these are the additional points interviewees made with governance and senior leadership in mind. They serve as additional pointers, over and above the ’12 principles of support’ and ‘Top tips for implementation’.

Employees look to the organisation for more than their employment - the workplace is more than a team of people with a connected organisational vision and linked roles. It serves as a community. There is clarity as to employer responsibility should workers be hurt on the job. However, when your workforce has faced collective trauma, unrelated to the job, but which affects their wellbeing and all aspects of their life including work, then it is worth considering what role the organisation might play in supporting the recovery of its own people. What recovery challenges do your people and their families face? How might your organisation be able to provide support and/or contribute to addressing these concerns?

The workplace is a community and provides many other things beyond an occupation – culture, social, and identity. Research shows the most effective form of delivery of support services after 9-11 was workplace supports – used more readily than community services. Dr Rob Gordon, Consultant psychologist in emergency recovery [1]

Spend time immersed and exposed to the realities on the ground - Put time aside to be present, offer to help in practical ways, listen, watch and learn. Create opportunities to keep the supporters, and the challenges they face, on your radar. For example, nominate a liaison person whose role is to keep it front and centre for you.

Practice realism – Recognise that recovery is messy, unlikely to progress as planned, and that business-as-usual practices and expectations are unrealistic. Appreciating efforts, accepting how demoralising the bumps and swerves can be for the supporters, who are often their own worst critics and learning from rather than judging missteps, will go a long way to reducing the stress of the supporters.

I like to say everything is ‘gooshy’. Like an amoeba. It never stays in a constant state.  Jill Hofmann – American Red Cross

I am so grateful to my board. Our success comes from the fact that they supported me to lead, to grow and make mistakes, knowing that I would be a harder critic on myself than anyone else could be. Lisa Orloff – World Cares Center

Long term approach - Sufficient resourcing for a long term approach should be a requisite for considering and implementing recovery initiatives. This includes delivery personnel, long term funding and administrative and operational supports and personnel support components.  Recovery does not end in the financial year.

If you are planning to do it for one year then have the ability to do it for three. As agencies, wherever possible, refuse 12 months’ funding; unless you (the funder) make it three years we’re not going to do it.  John Richardson – Australian Red Cross

Advocate to reduce pressures on those working in recovery – be they political or public pressures regarding speed, unrealistic expectations or a premature return to business as usual. Put the brakes on. Ensuring that recovery programming occurs in a considered manner and in a format that staff and volunteers will be able to sustain over time will involve consciously slowing down the pace. This may mean proactively owning and challenging the discourse. With courage and leadership, play a role in educating and challenging others when expectations are unrealistic.

Support of managers - Ensuring managers within the organisation are not over-burdened, are not promoted beyond their comfort levels, and are given support to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to support their teams, will in turn contribute to the wellbeing of your people. If these managers are locally-based, they too may require additional support.

Acknowledge the efforts of, and provide support to, all those involved in interacting with the public in the long-term post-disaster environment – not only those with a recovery-specific role.

Play bad cop to the team’s good cop - Locally based teams often live within the communities they support and unpopular decisions or choices can have devastating and wide-reaching impacts for local staff. Protect your teams wherever possible by being the face of the unpopular decisions or unforeseen negative outcomes.

Front the tough decisions in the community so that they are not attributed to local staff. Greg Ireton – Advisor, Victorian Government

Communication within your organisation is always important. In the recovery context it is even more so, yet it is challenging to do well. Allow for the impacts of stress which makes message absorption more difficult. Use varied methods, a multitude of times.[2] Clearly articulate reasons for decisions and progress on issues, even if news is not positive. 

If you are remote you need very good communication both up and down the chain to keep people aware of what’s going on so things don’t disappear into a black hole only to emerge a few months later. If fed up the chain let them know “Yep we’ve got that” and keep people informed on progress. You hold people’s trust and goodwill if you let them know you’ve got their best interests at heart. Even if you have to come back and say “We couldn’t solve it”, you’ve demonstrated your intention and that engenders goodwill. It is difficult to do it well. John Richardson – Australian Red Cross

Communication within the agency. It is easy said and difficult done. But a conscious effort is needed or things go wrong so easily. Dr Tomoko Osawa – Hyogo Institute for Traumatic Stress

Make it okay for your people not to ‘be you’

Some organisations are led by CEOs who embody that leader who is one in a million. They don’t have to sleep. They have a nuclear generator of hope inside and can carry an organisation with their charisma. But if this is held up as the model for everyone else, then turn over is high. You cannot expect that of everyone else. Those kind of role models are organisational bricks. It’s about making it okay for everyone else not to be you. Have realistic expectations and give people permission to have the limitations they have. Then you can honour the honest efforts of everyone else. Dr James Guy – Headington Institute


[1] North CS1, Pfefferbaum B, Hong BA, Gordon MR, Kim YS, Lind L, Pollio DE. (2013) Workplace response of companies exposed to the 9/11 World Trade Center attack: a focus-group study. Disasters. Jan;37(1):101-18

[2]Some helpful tips can be found in: Australian Red Cross. (2010) Communicating in Recovery. Carlton, Vic: Australian Red Cross

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