Trauma and Healing 2020

This article originally ran in 2018 and has been updated.

COVID-19, natural disasters, political strife, social disharmony, economic disruption – all of these forces are making 2020 a traumatic year for many Americans. Relentless shocks amplified by 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 (e.g. deaths of loved ones), it is likely that many workers bring trauma into work with them. This impacts organizational effectiveness in costly ways including absenteeism, presenteeism, disengagement, etc. Promoting workplace resilience and healing is good business in 2020!

Based on a review of various resources and member feedback, the lesson from traumatic events is simple: support employees in building resilience, minimize negative workplace impacts, promote healing and employee’s ability to manage traumas.

Training and Awareness: Advance preparation can diminish anxiety and build resilience. Provide formal training on emergency responses to situations like health problems, active shooter, angry customers, 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 handle distressed employees; supporting an employee’s healing may improve their performance. Employees may also benefit from training on mindfulness, meditation, and other coping skills.

Resources and Benefits: An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a great benefit to offer employees for life challenges, both big and small. Shop around as EAPs vary and some are more vigorous than others. Inform employees about EAP benefits to build awareness and willingness to access. Another option is to draft a list of local community resources and national “hotlines” that may offer free or sliding scale services; distribute to employees and post to keep them visible and accessible.

Policies and Procedures: Knowing what to do and how to handle “What if” scenarios is an essential part of disaster planning; it may also minimize the cumulative impact of traumas that don’t rise to the level of disaster. If done properly, the process of planning builds organizational resilience; conversations around what is feared may provide employees with a sense of control and even disaster prevention. Review leave policies to ensure they support employees who need time to heal after tragedy strikes.

Technology and Connection: Leverage technology wherever possible to communicate and manage challenges. Security systems including cameras and panic alarms can help. Zoom sessions, texts and emails may build employee awareness and provide prompt warnings. Internal social platforms may provide an effective support for trauma recovery and healing. Telehealth has been found to be a cost-effective method to provide therapies for many people. Despite the many positive benefits of technology, low-tech human connection may still be necessary for employees to heal – a major challenge in a time of social distancing. Encourage employees to pursue care as necessary from trained clinicians and emergency response services.

Another factor to consider are these federal employment laws that may be involved, often concurrently and intertwined in complex ways.

ADAAA: An employee suffering from PTSD (related to trauma) may be considered to have a disability and entitled to reasonable accommodations.

FFCRA: Covered employers must provide paid leave for specific reasons related to COVID-19.

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.

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

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.

Consistently building resilience and promoting employee wellness will accelerate workplace healing when disaster strikes.   Employers Council exists to assist members with resources, training and guidance to manage virtually every workplace challenge – including those that may traumatize. Contact us for assistance.