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The Future of Business: The Trauma-Informed Workplace

Trauma. It’s a word we hear all around us in 2022. It comes up in conversations about what counts as trauma and what doesn’t, as well as emerging conversations about mental health, trauma is a nuanced topic and here to stay. As companies continue to grow and want to maintain a diverse and resilient workforce, the movement to understand empathy, compassion, and now trauma-informed practices, for the workplace continues to evolve. While I’m excited to see this evolve, I’m also concerned about how some of these concepts might get lost in messaging.

Each time a concept becomes popular in the corporate media, new voices enter the discussion, who may or may not actually understand the theory they are discussing. This leads to misunderstandings and poor execution of these vital practices. That’s why I’ve found it so important to provide companies with research-based training in trauma-informed care that ensures they understand the cornerstones of these practices in their unique work environment. A general, one-size-fits-all workshop can often miss these key elements and lead people to drop out of the practice altogether.

As the creator of trauma-informed care certifications for attorneys, insurance claims professionals, military leaders, and student affairs, I know how personalizing a trauma-informed workplace can be. be vital. Based on many years of work and research, I have found three of the main components for every industry on introducing trauma-informed practices into organizations. These principles listed below relate to internal trauma-informed practices, a crucial element that is often overlooked by the focus on providing trauma-informed care to clients. This means that employees who weren’t receiving these practices are encouraged to offer them to others, leading to an inevitable cycle of burnout and emotional fatigue.

  1. See everyone you work with as a survivor
    Whether someone has disclosed trauma to us or not, we need to approach everyone as a survivor. We will never know everything that the people around us have been through or are currently dealing with. Thinking of each as a survivor allows us to offer grace and patience that benefits all.

    A few years ago I had a 3 month stint where four of my friends disclosed to me that they had each been molested in the past 1-3 years. They are adults in their 20s, 30s and 40s with advanced degrees and professional jobs. These are not people who fit what the media often portrays as a survivor of recent violence. Yet there they were, working as doctors, principals and teachers and having to go through a recent crisis.

    We really never know what each other is going through and workplaces need to accommodate the unique needs of people dealing with past and present pain. It’s not about pampering people or excusing negative behavior, but about recognizing that every behavior has a story and offering tools to support those going through a difficult time and building strong support networks.

  2. Change inwardly to ask yourself “What” and not “Why?”
    One of the cornerstones of TIC is the transition from the question “Why are you like that?” to “What happened and how can I help?” When a co-worker seems distant, easily frustrated, or melancholy, assume there’s a story here and that support and compassion are the keys to moving forward.

    The person who suddenly gets angry in a meeting, the person who appears to be crying over an annual review that objectively isn’t that bad, these are all examples of people with emotional reactions that carry a story behind them. Instead of saying the employee is difficult, we need to ask ourselves what experiences might be behind it, from a high ACE score to a recent triggering experience.

    It also means being emotionally intelligent with your own needs. When we struggle to recognize the root causes of some of our worries or reactions. Trauma-informed care is not about making excuses for bad behavior, but rather about examining the explanation behind said reaction and then working to find solutions to support each individual. I mean we have to ask for time off and a different role, or delegate some of our tasks in order to be more efficient. In a work culture, habits like going to therapy regularly or setting boundaries for not being available 24/7 need to become normalized.

  3. Respect the spoons
    The spoon theory allows us to quantify our physical and emotional reserves so that we can communicate how much energy we can devote to each task. This term comes from the disability community and is a framework that I incorporated into my trauma-informed workplace model. Make asking if someone has the spoons (reserves) for a conversation or task part of your work culture. Put personal care versus productivity at the heart of your values ​​as a company. Practice what you preach and model by setting healthy boundaries at work and in your life.

Trauma-informed care (TIC) is not a tool we pull off the shelf only when we know we are interacting with a survivor – it is a way of life that must be embedded in everything we do – as individuals and organizations. Creating an ICT environment means being trauma informed not only with clients/students/community members, but also with our peers and colleagues. This also has an impact on our bottom line. Staff turnover, onboarding and low productivity are some of the most financially draining aspects of doing business.

Trauma-informed practices go beyond empathy and are integral to similar practices such as creating a diverse, inclusive and equitable work environment. This effectively leads to higher retention and a more desirable candidate pool, increased productivity and job performance. Whether it’s the emotional aspect or some hard numbers, trauma-informed care adds value to every industry.

Written by Dr. Laura McGuire.
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