Trauma in the Workplace
Navigating through trauma is an ongoing process—one that is just as important in the workplace as it is at home
By Michaela Cardamone
When we think of trauma, we often associate it with going to war and experiencing assault or abuse. However, trauma can occur in other instances of our life—trauma can even happen by simply witnessing an event and not necessarily being directly impacted by it.
Trauma is an experience that can shape our lives. It shapes the way we live, love, think, and experience the world around us. It is the foundation to the greatest pains in our lives and the wounds in our souls.
Some examples of trauma include experiencing abuse (whether it is physical, emotional, psychological, or sexual); childhood neglect; spiritual or religious abuse; being in an accident or natural disaster; losing a loved one; witnessing abuse, death, or an accident; experiencing divorce, loss of employment, or discrimination; and so much more.
I think we all experience trauma, and we all cope with, navigate through, and share our traumas differently. In the workplace, trauma can impact our colleagues and those who we serve. Because of this, it’s important to establish a workplace environment that is compassionate and trauma-informed to serve ourselves, our coworkers, our clients, and our communities better.
The conversation of trauma in the workplace is even more prevalent in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, as the past year and a half has been traumatic for everyone. We show up to our jobs with a lot on our minds. But for some, what's on their mind can manifest into a toxic overload of stress and be outwardly displayed in their work performance.
When an individual is coping with trauma, it can be difficult for them to engage in their work. They may appear very tired, require more time to complete tasks, have difficulty concentrating and remembering things, and experience outbursts.
Ultimately, dealing with trauma can cause more than stress in an individual’s life; it can become a vicious cycle of anxiety. Whether the employee is already dealing with external stress from their trauma, their workplace is the source of their trauma, or the workplace is their trigger, it is important to recognize that trauma seeping into the workplace is inevitable and talking about it shouldn’t be avoided.
A trauma-informed workplace is built on the principles of safety, trustworthiness, support, inclusions, and empowerment—it is a workplace that places staff wellness as a top priority. In doing so, a workplace can address the impacts that trauma has and initiate the healing journey.
To create a trauma-informed workplace, employers and businesses can follow The Missouri Model: A Developmental Framework for Trauma-Informed Approaches, which is made up of four phases: awareness, sensitivity, response, and being informed. The biggest barriers to coping from trauma are not accessing resources, not having the proper supports, and the lack of education.
Workplaces need to educate, empower, equip, and support their employees through these difficult times. An individual's journey through their trauma is not to be ventured alone. It is to be done together with a support system, and the workplace is a part of that support system.
There are other resources that you can lean on. CLAC members have access to the Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) through LifeWorks, and the PTSD Association of Canada’s website has a number of coping strategies, articles, and research that you may find helpful.
Looking for more? I encourage you to check out Dr. Gabor Maté’s work. He is a renowned physician who focusses on trauma and its potential lifelong impacts on individuals and society. Dr. Maté has published a handful of books and scholarly articles, participated in multiple podcasts, and recently filmed a documentary. He believes that rather than avoiding pain, we need to address it. In the words of Dr. Maté, “The attempt to escape from pain is what creates more pain.”
While pain is inevitable, suffering is not. By not vilifying trauma, we can rise above its effects and find true relief.