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According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 70% of people experience at least one traumatic event in their lifetime. While most of these individuals will not meet the diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder, trauma can manifest in many ways. Those with a trauma history might experience mental health symptoms, physical illness, and struggle to maintain employment.
The American Psychological Association defines trauma as “an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape, or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships, and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea.”
Trauma refers to more than a dangerous or fear-inducing event. It also includes what happens afterward.
In recent years, there’s been a movement toward trauma-informed healthcare with an emphasis on understanding individuals’ histories and avoiding retraumatization in care. While not every person requires this approach, its implementation isn’t harmful and can prevent further trauma.
The need for a trauma-informed approach goes beyond the healthcare system. Workplaces can provide a trauma-informed environment, ultimately improving employees’ well-being, performance, and job satisfaction as a result.
Trauma-informed care: core principles
The Buffalo Center for Social Research developed five guiding principles for trauma-informed care. By following these principles, you can ensure psychological safety for your employees and prevent retraumatization in the workplace.
To establish a trauma-informed workplace, you must foster a psychologically safe and emotionally supportive environment. This involves creating a welcoming space that promotes connection while respecting individual privacy.
Encourage employees to approach you with concerns or difficulties, but respect their privacy and avoid mandated personal disclosure.
In essence, choice means respecting individuals’ personal decisions and autonomy. Give each person control over their environment, workspace, and schedule as much as possible. This also includes communicating expectations and their available options for implementing their choices.
Expanding on personal choices, a trauma-informed organization actively engages individuals in institutional decisions. Collaborate with them, enabling active participation in choosing, implementing, and evaluating the organization’s direction.
Encouraging this level of involvement fosters a sense of ownership and empowerment.
Employers often claim a desire for employee trust, but building trust requires concrete actions. Provide clear, consistent rules, expectations, and boundaries while respecting limits set by employees.
Acknowledge the power dynamics between workers and supervisors, understanding that trust is earned, not owed by employees. By demonstrating respect and consistency, trust can naturally develop within the workplace.
In the context of trauma-informed approaches, empowering individuals involves nurturing their skills and confidence. This entails validating their feelings and establishing an affirming environment that supports their growth and self-assurance.
Implementing trauma-informed practices in the workplace
Understanding the significance of a trauma-informed philosophy and its relevance in the workplace equips you to initiate implementing these practices. These actionable steps can be an excellent starting point for transforming your organization into a trauma-informed space.
Training and education
Trauma-informed practice involves educating all organizational members about its principles, implementation methods, and the nature of trauma. This knowledge allows employees to integrate these principles into their daily actions, fostering a trauma-informed culture within the organization.
Establish communication policies that prioritize transparency, openness, and empathy. Ensure leadership understands and follows these guidelines while promoting policies that empower employees to provide feedback or address concerns directly with management.
Policies and procedures
When building a trauma-informed workplace, assessing existing policies and enhancing them to align with trauma-informed principles is crucial.
Unless the organization was initially founded with trauma-informed values, existing policies likely don’t promote such a culture. By applying the core principles, adapt your current policies to embody the essence of being trauma-informed.
Effective leaders empower their team members to excel. While corrective feedback is sometimes necessary, it can be delivered in a supportive and respectful manner.
Ensure your managers and supervisors are trained to provide feedback through a trauma-informed approach, promoting a culture of growth and understanding within the workplace.
“Grind culture” is slowly burning out multiple generations of workers. Despite many employers claiming to prioritize self-care, they often demand excessive effort until employees burn out.
In a trauma-informed workplace, mental health takes precedence through self-care. This involves encouraging employees to prioritize their well-being and enabling them to pursue self-care initiatives effectively.
Creating a trauma-informed work culture
Implementing the practices outlined in the previous section can cultivate a trauma-informed culture within your workplace.
Adequate training, well-defined policies, and strong leadership can foster an environment where all employees feel respected and understood. Transparent, open communication ensures that issues are addressed promptly, preventing them from escalating. Empowered employees who feel heard are motivated to excel.
To reinforce trauma-informed policies, acknowledge successful implementation, and consistently gather and act on employee feedback. Although it requires time and effort, creating a trauma-informed culture in your organization is achievable and worthwhile.
Challenges and solutions for a trauma-informed workplace
Establishing a trauma-informed workplace is challenging, and various barriers may obstruct your progress. Overcoming these hurdles is crucial to realizing your vision of creating a trauma-informed culture in your organization.
Employ the following tactics to conquer common challenges and advance toward your goal.
Even within the field of psychology, there are disagreements about the definition of trauma and the concept of creating a trauma-informed environment or organization. Before initiating any initiatives, it’s vital to establish a shared understanding of trauma and the significance of being trauma-informed. Sustained communication ensures alignment and collaboration toward common goals.
Systemic change is difficult
Transforming an organization into a trauma-informed culture is an uphill journey that demands persistence. Recognize that becoming trauma-informed doesn’t happen overnight. It requires time and sustained effort.
Anticipate challenges, setbacks, and moments of discouragement. Preparation equips you to face these obstacles, enabling you to overcome difficulties as they arise. Stay dedicated in your commitment, understanding each step forward, no matter how small, contributes to the larger goal.
Lacking organizational support
Many organizations claim to care about employee mental health and the creation of safe, trauma-informed environments. However, only some will invest the necessary resources to follow through on these claims.
Expect resistance from leaders who may not fully grasp the significance of trauma-informed care or underestimate the effort required for change. Begin by educating about the importance of these initiatives and the labor and resources needed to transform them from concepts into reality. Building awareness can pave the way for understanding, and ultimately, meaningful investment.
Prioritizing and accessing resources
Unfortunately, no organization operates with unlimited resources. This means leadership will always have to select which initiatives to pursue—and if establishing a trauma-informed workplace isn’t valued and prioritized, necessary resources won’t be allocated.
Creating a trauma-informed culture hinges on recognizing the importance of these initiatives. Leadership must prioritize a trauma-informed culture, moving beyond superficial acknowledgements.
Lip service alone is insufficient. Genuine commitment and engagement are indispensable for these efforts to truly be effective. Honest dedication is the anchor for genuine and lasting change.
Learn how to establish and cultivate a psychologically safe workplace, fostering employee trust, engagement, and long-term retention.