International crises: psychological and social impacts

What does “international crisis” mean?

Companies operating on a global scale are faced with several types of crises. Those that affect certain regions in the world: terrorism, kidnapping, wars, political instability, disasters, modern piracy, and those that are more personally targeted: serious accident, suicide, attack. 

What are the psychological and social impacts of these crises on individuals and businesses?

Coping with a crisis is disturbing and a major stress factor for individuals and businesses.
On a personal level, it involves dealing with acute stress in order to prevent post-traumatic stress disorder which can result in symptoms of depression, anxiety, addictions and incapacitating psychiatric disorders in the short-, medium- or long-term. Around 30% of people experience post-traumatic stress disorder following a serious event*. Most people usually feel major distress for several days, and then the symptoms improve naturally until reaching complete recovery.
Recovering emotional equilibrium is made easier if a consultation takes place with a psychologist in the few hours following the event. This consultation is useful to make the person aware of their feelings and their developments. The person will also be able to put their experience into words, which will eventually enable them to take the control over the things that slipped away from them.
Mobility increases psychological and social risks in the event of a crisis, due to isolation and sometimes family separation. Spouses and children are sent back home but the employee remains in the host country. Some people, after being the victim of an attack or an accident, go back to their hotel room and do not call their family so they do not get worried.
According to a shock wave process, the company is also affected by the event.
People called “secondary victims”, i.e. the victim’s relatives or crisis management professionals, may also be emotionally affected. Work groups, teams under stress, experience mixed feelings of insecurity, injustice, abandonment, or indignation.
These various reactions, both as an individual and as a group, may lead to inadequate management, false impressions or inappropriate behavior.
For human resource managers in international companies, psychological and social challenges resulting from a crisis are significant. They must maintain the physical and psychological health of people, the business and work groups, and limit the impact on brand image.

How do companies manage the psychological and social impacts of crisis?

Major groups’ understanding has evolved over the last few years with regard to the need to manage psychological and social impacts resulting from international crises. They are often faced with a lack of appropriate solutions. Local solutions may sometimes be found but they are not always comprehensive enough or adapted. The implementation of psychological and social risk management solutions for critical incidents is still incomplete, and in some cases nonexistent.  
A doctor with a Chinese culture who speaks English will not be able to provide the necessary support to a European employee suffering from an acute stress disorder. To talk about yourself, in particular if you are emotionally upset, it is important to be able to do it in your own language in order to have the same cultural understanding of emotional definitions.

Assistance in the event of international crises: from psychological management to psychological and social management of an international crisis

Employees Assistance Programs (EAP) that can be purchased from insurers, provide multicultural networks for psychological consultations by telephone in several languages.
This type of support is a first solution to address this issue.
Faced with the psychological and social challenges arising from the crisis, it is important that companies are provided with comprehensive solutions. A country manager who is looking for solutions for the management of their teams in distress must be able to obtain guided advice: how to cope with their own stress, communicate with their teams to identify the staff members at risk, calm things down, reassure and make the decisions allowing to maintain group cohesion.
Following a serious accident on a construction site, a kidnapping, a suicide or an emergency repatriation, crisis management professionals (human resource managers, health safety executives and doctors) must be in a position to manage personal issues efficiently, know how to react and communicate with individuals or groups that have been emotionally impacted, give answers to families, and communicate with all the group’s staff members depending on the seriousness of the event.
The last psychological and social risk prevention solutions that we have implemented were intended for employees and families expatriated in countries experiencing an Ebola virus outbreak, or to face the critical situation in Ukraine. These solutions have enabled to strengthen the feeling of support provided by the company: “they are not forgetting about us” are words that have been heard by our professional experts.  
Eutelmed, in partnership with Previnter, provides daily support to international major groups, NGOs and SMEs operating worldwide for the management of psychological and social risks resulting from crises.
Whenever a crisis arises, we build up a team dedicated to meeting the needs that have been identified: languages and cultures, coaching sessions specific to managers, psychological support for adults and children. We commit ourselves to a high level of expertise with experienced and specialized professionals because companies have to face extremely critical situations.
Our multicultural network of 16 languages and original cultures, made up of occupational psychologists, clinicians, trainers and psychiatrists, provides consultations within the specified time frame using a secure on-line video system, by telephone or directly on site. All of them abide by our work methods. We want to ensure standardization and control over the quality of consultations, whatever the language and whatever the country in which we have to operate.  
With a view to prevent risks in a reliable and efficient manner, our solutions contribute to rationalizing crisis management costs, by avoiding repatriation for example, and to managing those costs: limitation of consultations through prior approval agreements with the insurer, and regular follow-up provided to the company.
In the event of significant psychological decompensation for which repatriation may be an option, we rely on our network of psychiatrists who can provide us with a remote psychiatric opinion by video. It will enable to assess the person’s condition, to offer a drug treatment and, where applicable, to advise on the repatriation conditions. Our system is secure and encrypted and complies with telemedicine international regulations.
Crisis management requires to be responsive, flexible and adaptable. The video system enables us to provide support to individuals and groups of individuals in a timely manner. Many studies, supported by our experience, show that the video brings proximity to the relationship, maintains the quality of support and encourages taking some perspective as is needed in the event of a critical situation.
In the field of international mobility, expectations and requirements are high. We have to deal with values of success and effectiveness. Psychological pain is seen as a sign of weakness, a signal of lower efficiency and performance. Therefore it is very difficult, even risky, for a person to alert on their need for support, which only keeps the psychological and social risks increasing. It is particularly appropriate to implement prevention solutions adapted to this specific context.
We are far from the received idea of psychological answers under all circumstances, it is about identifying real risk factors, and understanding the impacts on individuals, groups and management. The critical contexts of crises must be handled with discernment and in a targeted manner.

Chrystel Chaudot
Director for Prevention of Psychological and Social Risks and International Mobility