Trauma and Healing

Natural disasters, political strife, mass shootings, social disharmony, deviant workplace behaviors–all of these factors made 2017 a traumatic year for many Americans. Even for those who were not personally impacted, relentless media coverage and ever-present social media may have made a cumulatively traumatic impact on your workforce. Combined with life’s personal tragedies that don’t make the headlines, many workers bring trauma to work with them, impacting organizational effectiveness in costly ways including absenteeism, presenteeism, disengagement, etc. As such, it makes good business sense for employers to promote workplace resilience and healing in 2018.

Based on a review of various resources and prompted by actual member feedback, the lesson from traumatic events is clear: prepare in advance to build resilience, promote healing, and minimize negative impacts on the workplace.

Training and Awareness: Advance preparation can diminish anxiety and build resilience. Provide formal training to employees on first aid/CPR as well as emergency responses to situations like active shooter, intruder disturbance, opioid overdose, etc. Effective communication skills to negotiate with distressed individuals may help de-escalate threatening and possibly dangerous conflicts. Leaders, managers, and supervisors may benefit from targeted training to effectively identify and manage distressed employees. The goal is to support their healing while maintaining accountability for work outputs.

Resources and Benefits: An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a great benefit to offer employees for life challenges, both big and small. Shop around—not all EAPs are created alike, and some are more beneficial than others! Informing employees about EAPs to the build awareness and comfort maximizes their benefit. An alternative is to post a list of local community resources and national hotlines that may offer free or sliding-scale services. This may reach employees who otherwise resist “calling HR” for help.

Policies and Procedures: Knowing how to handle “What if” scenarios is an essential part of disaster planning. The planning process itself builds organizational resilience. By forcing a conversation around what is feared, employees are empowered and provided a sense of control over the unknown. Review absence and leave policies to ensure they support employee healing after tragedy strikes.

Technology and Connection: Leverage technology to handle traumatic situations. Security systems including cameras and panic alarms may help reduce anxiety. Communication through group texts and emails is important to build awareness and provide prompt warnings. Internal social platforms may provide an effective support for trauma recovery and healing. Low-tech human connection supports healing. Provide opportunities for employees to connect face-to-face with others during recovery from traumatic events, including trained clinicians, emergency-response services, and group communication circles. Employment laws may be involved in traumatic events, in surprising ways.

FMLA: Covered employers must provide eligible employees with unpaid leave to care for their own serious health condition, or that of a covered family member. Traumatic mental distress may be a covered health condition.

ADAAA: An employee suffering from PTSD may be “disabled” and entitled to reasonable accommodation.

Workers Compensation: If an employee is exposed to a traumatic event outside the normal scope of their workplace duties, they may be entitled to mental health services.

OSHA: Employers are required to provide safe workplaces. Mandating employees work in dangerous conditions and knowingly placing them in harm’s way is a likely OSHA violation.

No one knows what lies ahead in 2018, but taking a proactive strategy to build resilience will accelerate workplace healing should disaster strike. Employers Council exists to assist members with resources, training, and guidance to manage virtually every workplace challenge and for building organizational resilience. Call us today.