The Importance of a Trauma-Informed Workplace

4 mins

During the years since the start of the pandemic, the lines between work and home have becom...

By View HR

During the years since the start of the pandemic, the lines between work and home have become increasingly blurred. Employees are able to work from home either partially or full-time, however the world has also become more connected – we can pick up our laptops and phones and instantly connect to work from anywhere around the globe. Fundamentally, the lines between work and home life are increasingly blurring, and that can lead to distress and a growing overwhelming feeling.

According to the UK Trauma Council, trauma refers to how some events are so extreme or intense that they overwhelm a person’s ability to cope, resulting in a lasting negative impact; the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines trauma as an emotional injury that affects performance and wellbeing. It is fair to say that everyone in the country has experienced, at some level, trauma over the last three years. From the pandemic to the energy crises, global stability has been in short supply recently.

It is, therefore, crucial that organisations of all sizes are trauma-informed. A trauma-informed organisation is one that operates with an understanding of trauma and its negative effects on the organisation’s employees and the communities it serves and works to mitigate those effects.

This blog will review how trauma can affect employees, how organisations can support individuals and the importance of HR professionals taking care of themselves. 


How Trauma Effects Employees

Trauma can have profound mental and physical health implications for staff. Some common effects of trauma include:
  • Panic attacks
  • Dissociation
  • Sleep problems
  • Low self-esteem
  • Grief
  • Alcohol and substance misuse.

The effects of trauma can last for a long time or come and go. Employees might find they have difficulty with day-to-day aspects of life, which can transfer into the work environment. Employers may see trauma symptoms at work, such as tardiness and absenteeism, low performance, poor conduct, bad interview skills or potentially high turnover. Unless managers are aware of the trauma or look for it, action may be taken against employees, which may only further the cycle of trauma. 

How can employers support employees?

 
How to Support Employees

Acknowledgement

Firstly, employers need to acknowledge the pain of those experiencing trauma. Managers should actively listen and be aware of the challenges faced by staff and continually review any reasonable adjustments and support that can be put in place to aid the individual. At the outset of the blog, we noted that trauma could affect performance; if this is the case, managers should – instead of jumping to conclusions – work with the employee to determine if they are suffering from any trauma. Acknowledgement that external emotions can affect performance will aid the continuing relationship between staff and employers. 

Values of the Organisation

The organisation should promote values such as openness, confidentially, empathy and understanding. These values should be embedded into every policy, procedure and organisational process, but more importantly, values should be lived and breathed by every member of staff. Where bullying or harassment occurs, there should be swift action to stop it. 

Reduce the Stigma/Training

Unfortunately, there is still a stigma around mental health. Employers should create a safe environment where employees feel comfortable reporting and discussing traumatic events. Managers should undertake regular one-to-ones where open and frank discussion is encouraged. 

Employers should be keen to provide information or referrals to local mental health teams. Where it has them, the organisation should provide policies and procedures related to the individual’s challenges – such as flexible working or home working. 

Managers should be trained to recognise distress and how to best deal with it. We suggest that managers undertake some form of mental health first aid course which will equip them with the knowledge to identify those who require mental health support and the confidence to offer assistance when required.

Employers can be called trauma-informed organisations if they properly support their staff when facing trauma. Staff will genuinely appreciate your efforts, and no doubt retention and performance rates will reflect this. 


Human Resources Professionals

During the last few years, not only have HR professionals had to deal with similar trauma faced by colleagues, but they may have also had to support their organisations through challenging situations, such as making redundancies, providing well-being calls to staff on furlough, and handling disciplinary and grievance cases. The role of HR can take a huge emotional toll on the individual. 

A recent study conducted by Workvivo noted: as a result of workplace transformations and the Great Resignation, 98% of HR professionals are burned out. Of the HR professionals surveyed, 94% said they felt overwhelmed in the past six months, while 88% of respondents said they dreaded work. The magnitude of the Great Resignation and the large-scale transitioning of entire workplace structure and cultures has left HR departments under-resourced and under immense pressure. Some 97% of respondents said they felt emotionally fatigued from work over the past year.

The statistics above highlight how crucial it is HR staff to look after themselves. So what can you do to ensure your own well-being? Firstly, walk the talk. Over the last few years, no doubt you’ve been telling employees to take annual leave, switch off from work, work their contracted hours, and undertake effective steps to improving well-being. HR staff need to follow what they say; this is not only good for them but also a good model for other employees to follow. HR Individuals need to build strong internal and external support groups, safe spaces where they can – confidentially – express themselves and confide in other people. Where possible, don’t handle situations all on your own – work with the senior management team or middle managers to help ease the load, or use coaching techniques to allow colleagues to find solutions to their own problems. 

If you need help creating policies and procedures or a culture that supports trauma, please get in touch with a member of the View HR team.