CINCINNATI - No doubt it will be painful for Fifth Third Bancorp. CEO Greg Carmichael to lead a public vigil honoring victims of Thursday’s shooting at the company’s Fountain Square headquarters. But experts say it might just be the perfect medicine for the bank and its employees.
“The most important thing is for leadership to express empathy,” said Mike Wagner, director of the master’s program in human resources at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Business. “It’s important for the top leaders to be more visible. People are fearful and they need to have their concerns listened to. The other thing that leaders need to do is explain what the company is doing to keep them safer going forward.”
Fifth Third spokesman Larry Magnesen said Carmichael is doing just that.
"Greg has issued a number of written communications to the entire employee base," Magnesen said. "This morning, he's doing some touring throughout the bank, visiting with employees. He'll be doing that throughout the day up until the 4 O'Clock vigil."
That doesn't surprise Wagner, who worked for nearly seven years as a Fifth Third vice president in human resources and risk management.
“He's very visible and very decisive," Wagner said. "When there are situations that impact the whole company and are particularly emotional, he's always been the kind to step up and state exactly what he believes."
The assistant head of UC's Department of Psychology said CEOs involved in workplace shootings should look for opportunities to sit in on department meetings and be available employees who want to express their concerns individually.
"By being visible at this time, it's an assurance to employees that the company does care and cares about them specifically," said Associate Professor Stacie Furst-Holloway. "The company needs to be incredibly transparent at this particular time and make sure they're sharing with employees everything they know about who the shooter was, why this happened and what steps they are taking to make sure the tragedy can't be repeated."
Miami University Sociology Professor Glenn Muschert, co-author of three academic studies on school shootings, said this kind of violence has a ripple effect on those injured, those who witness the tragedy and those connected by friends, family and co-workers.
“People have great needs after shootings,” Muschert said. “Something fundamental has affected the individuals and the social environment. So, they can’t just kind of return normal. They need some time and some assistance to process it, usually.”
Nearly 2 million Americans report being a victim of workplace violence each year, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. About 400 people each year become victims of homicide at work, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The Society for Human Resource Management published a February report on best practices for companies to prevent and cope with active-shooter situations. These include advanced planning on safety protocols, training employees how to respond when shots are fired and having a communication plan in place before any incidents take place.
After a shooting, SHRM experts said companies should be prepared to offer counseling for months after the incident because that’s how long it can take for symptoms to emerge from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“A lot of organizations will make sure counseling and therapists and social workers are available,” Furst-Holloway said. “But too often we say these resources are here if you need them. I think you need to assume that employees need those resources and to bring those resources to them … Don’t assume that because the resources are there, the people who need the resources the most will use them.”
Magnesen said Fifth Third brought in a team of counselors who are available to Downtown employees through at least Monday. Those on-site counselors will stay longer if needed.
"The company is very good at exercising appropriate flexibility and understanding that different people react in different ways to trauma and stress like this," he said. "So, people can work with their manager if they need additional time off or need to work from home for a few days."
Furst-Holloway said the emotional impact of the Fifth Third shooting could extend beyond the bank itself, to neighboring Downtown buildings and companies that do business with Fifth Third.
“If I’m the CEO of a company Downtown or across the street, I would use it to start a conversation,” she said. “These are our neighbors. This is our city. What can we do to ensure that something like that doesn’t happen again? We see these things on the news and it’s always someplace else. Now it’s here, right? It happened here. And it should be a wake up call. If we’re not having these conversations then we should.”
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