According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (SAMHSA) trauma “is a widespread, harmful, and costly public health problem. It occurs as a result of violence, abuse, neglect, loss, disaster, war, and other emotionally harmful experiences. Trauma has no boundaries with regard to age, gender, socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, geography or sexual orientation.” As we slowly, and hopefully, enter a post-Pandemic world and a more globally connected economic marketplace, we will be interacting regularly with people who have experienced, and are currently living with trauma. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, we were doing so already, but many weren’t as aware of it until this collective global trauma occurred.
According to recent statistics, 6% of the population will have PTSD at some point in their lives, and about 12 million adults in the U.S. have PTSD during a given year. The coronavirus pandemic has caused 7 in 10 employees to say that this is the most stressful time of their career. Decades of research on trauma have shown that there are lasting adverse effects on an individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.
Workplaces rely on healthy staff, which includes them being able to use fully optimized brains. Every day employees show up for work with the challenges they face outside of their employer; perhaps it’s common-place issues such as childcare, mortgage payments, or health-care costs. For others, it might be the unseen pressures of domestic violence, homelessness, the death of a loved one, or even the on-going stress of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Sometimes, the job itself is a source of toxic stress with bullying or abusive management, a dysfunctional culture, or lack of supportive systems.
Most businesses aren’t created with processes in place to handle toxic stress and trauma; and often these issues, if addressed at all, are sent to the HR department to deal with. We understand that organizational changes are stressful for employees and that culture changes are often met with resistance; however, the benefits of doing so, are plentiful. They include increased employee retention and fewer sick days; Harvard Business Review reported that employees who felt that they belonged decreased company turnover by 50% and had a 75% reduction in sick days, as well as a 56% increase in job performance. Additionally, happy employees are 12% more productive and better collaborators, which can lead to greater levels of profits for companies that invest in trauma-informed workplaces.
Employers and workforce professionals can create trauma-informed workplaces by implementing small changes that help with identifying, understanding, and mitigating stress within their employees, and perhaps even with their clients. This can look like:
- Setting up Employee Resource Groups to discuss gaps within the company and where trauma-informed strategies may need to be implemented
- Offering alternative ways to recruit and source for talent
- Adjusting medical benefits to reduce costs and/or add mental health services
- Looking at internal systems and management styles that may be contributing to high absenteeism and turnover
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), along with SAMHSA, have develped six guiding principles that trauma-informed organizations follow:
- Safety: Individuals should feel physically, emotionally, and psychologically safe in their workplace setting.
- Trustworthiness and Transparency: Employers’ operations and actions are communicated with transparency, and with the goal of building and maintaining trust among employees and clients.
- Peer Support: Employees feel supported with the right tools and resources to assist their peers, and themselves. Non-judgemental support from peers increases trust and esteem for everyone involved. Additionally, employees should be encouraged to take their PTO and utilize provided physical and mental health benefits.
- Collaboration and Mutuality: A sense of belonging is communicated, encouraged and cultivated. Individuals should feel they have agency and can use their voice at their workplace without fear of retaliation from management or co-workers.
- Empowerment: Employers prioritize an environment where employees can feel as if their uniqueness is valued, and their employer is invested in helping them increase their skills.
- Cultural, Historical, and Gender Inclusion: Employers invest in internal culture changes and investigate any internal systems and operations that may have led to bias and discrimination. Swift action and implementation are taken if gaps are discovered.
As with DEI implementation, trauma-informed workplace approaches are not accomplished quickly or easily with singular tasks; it requires an ongoing culture change with support and engagement from top community stakeholders.
Report: A Trauma-Informed Approach to Workforce: An Introductory Guide for Employers and Workforce Development Organizations: https://nationalfund.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/A-Trauma-Informed-Approach-to-Workforce.pdf
Article: SHRM - “Trauma-Informed Workplace: Kindness Works Better”: https://blog.shrm.org/blog/trauma-informed-organizational-behavior-kindness-works-better
Report: D.C. Policy Center Report: “The case for investing in trauma-informed management practices in the workplace: Knowledge, practice, and policy that can improve life outcomes in the District of Columbia”: https://www.dcpolicycenter.org/publications/trauma-informed-management/
SAMHSA: SAMHSA’s Concept of Trauma and Guidance for a Trauma-Informed Approach: https://ncsacw.acf.hhs.gov/userfiles/files/SAMHSA_Trauma.pdf
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand/common/common_adults.asp
Kaiser Permanente Business, “The new workplace is trauma-informed”: https://business.kaiserpermanente.org/insights/covid-19/trauma-informed-workplace
Catalyst Report: “Inclusive Leadership”: https://www.catalyst.org/research/inclusive-leadership-report/
Fast Company Article: “Why Happy Employees Are 12% More Productive”: https://www.fastcompany.com/3048751/happy-employees-are-12-more-productive-at-work
CDC: Inforgraphic: 6 Guiding Principles To A Trauma-Informed Approach: https://www.cdc.gov/cpr/infographics/6_principles_trauma_info.htm