How many times has one of us been unfairly criticised for not wanting to go to work and instead told, “Come on! You sound like a ten-year-old not wanting to go to school!” We want to ‘act like grown-ups,’ are afraid of being judged and must pay bills, which is why workplace trauma and PTSD are issues that are conveniently swept under the rug. But workplace trauma is real, and it does not happen just in high-stress jobs like the military.
So, what is workplace trauma?
Trauma is an emotional response to a distressing event or events. Workplace trauma is trauma arising in or from a workplace setting. It may be the result of a single traumatic event or a series of ongoing traumatic events occurring over some time, or working in trauma-inducing toxic environments.
What causes workplace trauma?
Workplace trauma can have several causes ranging from toxic work environments, physical or sexual abuse, discrimination, verbal and emotional violence, gaslighting, bullying, unrealistic work expectations, boundary violations, threats of harming one’s career, witnessing someone else experience trauma at work, and more. In fact, in some cases, employees may even experience trauma that may not be directly arising from the workplace of other employees and yet find the workplace triggering a certain trauma by its association with the workplace. For example, an employee may receive the news of their father’s death while at their workplace. Even after the incident has occurred, they might still experience trauma in coming to work or sitting at their desk because that is where they received the bad news.
Workplace trauma and its impact on the employees is often minimised. While to the employer, workplace trauma can look like task avoidance, absenteeism, low productivity, and loss of motivation, for the employee, it can result in physical and mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, burnout, nightmares, panic attacks, heart problems etc. In fact sometimes, the employee may even develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a mental health condition.
According to the World Health Organisation, PTSD develops in “conflict-affected settings… following exposure to an extremely threatening or horrific event or series of events.” PTSD is characterised by re-experiencing the traumatic event and experiencing an intense and persistent current threat even months or years after the event has occurred. In addition to the problems listed above, workplace PTSD may manifest in many ways such as chronic anxiety, hyper-activity, obsession with completing tasks on time, self-isolation, lack of focus, avoidance of work, showing up late to work, reduced employee engagement, irritability with colleagues or seniors, change in work performance, reduced job satisfaction and more.
How can workplaces provide trauma-informed care?
Workplaces, especially during this point in history, must prioritise their employees' mental health. This can be done in the following ways:
Flexible work policies
One of the best ways to prioritise the mental health of your workforce is to allow them a flexible work schedule that is outside the traditional 9 to 5. A flexible schedule helps employees determine when they are most productive and feel most comfortable to work. This results in greater job satisfaction, better work-life balance and increased productivity.
Supportive and understanding work environment
Employees can't achieve their full potential in a stifling environment. Organisations must therefore ensure safe, stigma-free environments that follow a culture of empathy, and where open and safe communication is encouraged at all levels.
Ongoing training and awareness about PTSD and trauma
A workplace must be trauma-informed and provide such training to its employees on an ongoing basis. During the training, employees must be able to understand what workplace trauma and PTSD are, how to spot it in themselves or a colleague, how to use healthy coping mechanisms to overcome trauma, and how to report trauma-inducing events such as bullying or chronic harassment. Such training is the arsenal that could eventually contribute to ending trauma-inducing events in workplaces.
Access to mental health resources and professionals
Each workplace must ensure easy, free-of-cost access to mental health resources for its employees.
We at Manah Wellness pride ourselves on providing our clients with the best digital tools and personal counselling and therapy services by experts and professionals in our field. Our employee support resources include Manahverse, which is a one-stop resource containing multiple tools such as journaling, self-assessment tests, 24x7 multilingual counselling and more.
Organisations must design and implement a zero-tolerance mechanism for abuse in the workplace. Behaviours considered inappropriate and abusive to the employees must be identified and prohibited. Strict action must be taken against those who indulge in such behaviours.
Deal with specific traumas
Once the organisation is aware of the specific traumas of an individual employee, it must strive to provide additional trauma-informed care resources to that employee to help them resolve that particular trauma. This could look like free mental health counselling sessions for an employee who has experienced sexual abuse or racial discrimination at work.
Organisations cannot sustain themselves without their workforces. They therefore must create a culture of sustainability for their employees.