Employers urged to take extra care as people affected by Christchurch terrorist attack return to work

Some of those affected by the Christchurch terrorist attack have started to return to work, however psychologists warn that their employers will need to take extra care.

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But psychologists are warning that employers need to take extra care. Source: 1 NEWS

One of those getting back on the job is Christchurch woman and MYOB employee Ayesha Corner, who has spent the last three months caring for others in her community.

Ms Corner was at work when the terrorist attack started and left immediately to help, going on to spend spare moment helping to care for shooting survivor Farid Ahmed. Mr Ahmed was inside the mosque during the attack and lost his wife Husna.

Ms Corner wanted to praise her employer after she was given three full weeks of compassionate leave, to allow her to grieve lost friends.

She was later allowed to take all of her sick leave and annual leave and MYOB have adjusted her hours to allow for a three day weekend.

"Anyone who knew me, work was my life beforehand, it's changed a little bit now, family's become more important," she says.

"I've had a few moments where it's been upsetting, it's just because of flashbacks, but I'm smiling, I'm working and I'm being productive."

The extra leave made the world of difference to Farid Ahmed as Ms Corner had enough time to care for him and his family for two full months.

"Everyone was jumping into the wagon to help, whatever they could. It was wonderful and we really appreciate it," he says.

MYOB employee services head Felicity Brown says they tried to support their staff in different ways after the attack, as some preferred to be at work as a distraction, while others needed the time off.

"We don't want our people worrying about needing to take leave or continuing to be paid or pay the bills and all those kinds of things that really don't seem important when you're dealing with something like this," she says.

Psychologists say employers will need to show extra attention to employees who have suffered trauma and offer different kinds of support to each one, particularly as the Muslim community returns to work in Christchurch.

University of Otago, Christchurch clinical psychologist Jenny Jordan says many will be suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, which can leave victims with intrusive memories, flash blacks and other emotions that can make readjusting to the workplace difficult.

"It's really hard to concentrate, people often have scattered attention, they might have trouble prioritising things, because it's kind of like the nerves are jangly still and they can't really focus," she says.

"What we know is that most of the population were in deep shock after what happened here with the terror attack, and for many people, they would have kind of gradually got back to normal. But we'll find now that some people haven't, and those are the ones that are left behind and still stuck." 

Employers should be aware that anyone with PTSD can end up avoiding people or places that remind of them of the traumatic events or be stuck in a strong emotion, like shame, guilt or anger.

They can also feel a disconnection with others who haven't been through what they've been through and suffer from "hyper-arousal", where they’re often on edge, cramped up, unable to sleep or fearful.

However, it affects different people in different ways and Ms Corner says she’s now enjoying being back at work full time.

"Having that little bit of support makes it that much easier and then when we are able to work, and are able to cope, you'll get 100%, probably more from us,” she says.

The message is that if you look after your staff, they will look after you.