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How to create a trauma-informed workplace

A trauma-informed workplace aims to prevent retraumatization — presenting stimuli or experiences that trigger a reliving of past trauma.

By:
May 17, 2024
How to create a trauma-informed workplace

How to create a trauma-informed workplace

Trauma, defined as an emotional injury that impacts our well-being and performance, is more prevalent than commonly believed. It can result from exposure to emotionally distressing events such as violence, abuse, neglect, loss, disasters, and wars.

In Mexico, 68% of the population has been exposed to experiences considered "stressful" or "traumatic"; within that percentage, 2.3% of women and 0.49% of men have experienced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder1. In the United States, it is estimated that 6% of its population will experience symptoms of this disorder at least once in their lifetime2.

You must be wondering: What does trauma have to do with workspaces?

Trauma is a phenomenon that does not discriminate based on age, gender, economic status, nationality, etc. and is known to influence the performance of those affected by it, directly affecting workspaces. Workplaces are not only impacted directly by trauma but also bear a certain level of responsibility to prevent it, mitigate its effects, and even improve conditions to facilitate recovery.

This is where the concept of trauma-informed comes into play. Originating in healthcare to avoid retraumatization, when applied in workspaces, it prioritizes employee well-being, performance, and consequently, better job satisfaction.

But how can we achieve this?

Principles of trauma-informed workplaces

A Trauma-informed workplace can be defined as "an organization that operates with the understanding that trauma exists and has negative effects on its employees, clients, and communities related to the business while working to mitigate those effects."

One of the main objectives of a trauma-informed workplace is to prevent retraumatization—presenting stimuli or experiences that trigger a reliving of past trauma.

At times, an employee may be going through a traumatic experience directly affecting their performance, and it is the role of Human Resources or department leaders to be aware of such occurrences. Conversely, they should identify significant changes in performance or behavior that may indicate symptoms.

Traumatic events can impact not only an individual but also the entire community and affect entire teams within an organization—local news, disasters, team deaths, crimes, war, terrorism, etc. In such cases, it's important to determine actions to communicate the company's stance, provide help resources, and enable spaces for sharing.

Based on this, the Buffalo Center for Social Research developed five principles to prevent retraumatization and ensure spaces of psychological safety:

Choice

Respect for autonomy involves honoring individuals' personal choices and decisions. This includes granting them control over their personal and professional environments, as well as providing information about their rights, options, responsibilities, and the necessary steps to implement their choices.

Safety

Involves providing safe spaces, both physically and emotionally. Privacy is respected, and common areas and resources are accessible and welcoming so that individuals can approach at any time to communicate difficulties or concerns.

Collaboration

Is the process of making decisions together with the individuals involved and sharing the same decision-making power. It plays a decisive role in planning and evaluating options, resources, or tools.

Trust

There is clarity about tasks, next steps, expectations, etc. There is consistency, and interpersonal boundaries among those involved are respected.

Empowerment

Prioritizes the development of skills, self-confidence, and empowerment. This is achieved by creating atmospheres in the workplace where individuals feel valued, and considered, and where they are allowed to grow and their emotions are validated.

How to create a trauma-informed workplace

Once familiar with these principles, we can begin the task of turning our workspace into one that is trauma-informed. To achieve this, let's consider some ways to do it:

Provide training

In addition to the more common courses and training in the corporate world, it's important to have mental health-focused training. Tools that can help identify symptoms of emotional stress in oneself or others, or provide the foundation for creating new protocols related to mental health.

The most useful tools in our repertoire of services at Fuckup Nights for companies are our courses and workshops on psychological safety, to create spaces of trust and openness. Additionally, our corporate or Private Events, foster atmospheres of vulnerability and resilience by providing a safe container to share business failure stories.

Plan a response

On the Human Resources side, an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is crucial and must lay out all necessary actions to respond to a traumatic event affecting a team member.

These plans also include a series of easily accessible resources to address mental health concerns, including a protocol for approaching affected individuals or internal communications in the case of larger situations that are affecting more than one person.

Katherine Manning, a consultant and empathy trainer in the workplace, suggests adopting the LASER method (Listen, Acknowledge, Share, Empower, and Return) as a guide for approaching people experiencing trauma. Here is the guide for you to review.

From the perspective of coworkers, Kelsey Crowe, founder of Empathy Bootcamp, suggests small gestures to support colleagues at work, such as leaving a treat on the affected person's desk, taking them out for lunch, pooling vacation days among colleagues, lightening their workload by sharing tasks or even organizing donations of money or resources for that person.

Clarify benefits

During traumatic events, it can be difficult to process or retain information. At this point, it's important to have sufficient clarity and information about available resources.

This can be achieved in various ways, such as talks by insurers, experts, workshops, videos, or simply having information in written form that is easy to understand and accessible.

It's important to note that the consistent repetition and promotion of these resources is the responsibility of department leaders and HR personnel.

Consider self-care

Working closely with trauma victims can be exhausting and emotionally challenging for anyone. It's important to remember that leaders and HR personnel act as first responders and facilitators of information and resources; however, this does not make them experts or therapists.

It's crucial to prioritize the well-being of caregivers' mental health and ensure they have access to resources to support themselves while assisting others.

Be sensitive

Department leaders or HR personnel should have a certain sensitivity and empathy towards the experiences of individuals going through a traumatic event. This process requires self-criticism to understand that our listening or communication skills may have areas for improvement. This will significantly help in having more empathetic approaches.

This sensitivity also involves not minimizing the emotions of those involved, refraining from criticizing decisions made or attempting to dictate or influence them.

Strengthen ties

Every day, mental health care becomes more relevant for individuals, and this is a key factor in retaining talent today.

In a world facing constant conflicts, climate emergencies, disasters, etc., crisis and trauma management in a company becomes more relevant.

The way a team or organization responds to traumatic events has a lasting impact on the individual, their perception of the organization, and the development of trust and transparency among colleagues.

How to promote trauma-informed workplace leadership

In addition to the role that Human Resources plays in generating good practices and oriented policies, certain responsibility also falls on departmental leaders. They have daily contact with organization members and wield significant influence in creating trauma-informed workspaces.

Role of leadership in a trauma-informed workplace

As you saw, the role of leaders involves recognizing warning signs in team members, knowing available resources, and making them effective through constant and empathetic communication at the right moment.

But stepping back a bit, the work begins with leaders' understanding of this issue.

The first step to engaging leaders in creating a trauma-informed workspace is awareness. Recognizing the role that trauma plays in the lives of the people they oversee is crucial to starting to develop sensitivity to the issue and more easily adopting organizational efforts to become a safe space.

Leaders' role also focuses on setting an example, applying and living out the company's values and principles, and responding promptly and consistently to issues and conflicts that may arise. They should be an example of action and values, and a figure that empowers their members by making them feel respected and understood, and encouraging openness.

Challenges of a Trauma-Informed Workplace and How to Solve Them

Now that we know how to build a trauma-informed workspace, it's important to pay attention to the challenges that can hinder the effectiveness of these efforts, or simply not bring about any favorable change in the work environment.

Inconsistent definitions

Before starting any initiative to transform our workspace, it is vital to have a common understanding of the definitions surrounding this approach. This includes what trauma means, what a trauma-informed workspace means to us, and how it will be achieved.

Systemic change

Any organizational change is not easy. It requires a lot of patience, resilience, and consistency to gradually transform our space. In the pursuit of achieving trauma-informed workspaces, many biases, beliefs, and paradigms can get in the way.

It is normal to encounter challenges, difficulties, obstacles, and demotivation, as no significant change happens overnight.

Lack of support

While some members of the organization may understand the value behind a trauma-informed workplace, sometimes other leaders or decision-makers may not see the value or underestimate these efforts, thus allocating few resources.

It is important to approach the team with data on its importance and educate everyone so that there is a collective effort and more resources to support these approaches.

No access to resources

The lack of resources can also be one of the biggest challenges in establishing a trauma-informed workplace.

Unfortunately, there are not always enough resources to drive all initiatives in favor of organizational culture, and if combined with the problem of the previous point, this can result in poor or no efforts at all.

Empower your employees and build a trauma-informed organization

At the end of the day, any significant organizational change, in addition to depending on HR personnel and department leaders, is a task that all other members of the organization share for their development.

Team members aspiring to create a trauma-informed workplace should have a common understanding of definitions, objectives, expectations, available resources, as well as protocols and warning signs.

It is important to mention that a workspace with psychological safety for sharing, being vulnerable, transparent, and open is a great first step for real conversations, trust, and sharing ideas and challenges in achieving this goal.

In Conclusion…

Creating trauma-informed workspaces is a fundamental process. We cannot ignore that we are human beings with needs, emotions, and complex lives, prone to difficult experiences from which nobody is exempt.

Our jobs, which sometimes become like our second home, should be as safe and reliable spaces as possible.

At Fuckup Nights, we recognize this need and work to offer our corporate products to companies that want to make their spaces more vulnerable, transparent, and filled with psychological safety.

Fill out this form so we can have a call and help you transform your workplace.

Frequently asked questions

How do you make an organization trauma-informed?

The first step is to be aware of the negative impact of trauma on individuals. Subsequently, training sessions can be implemented to raise awareness about mental health and the warning signs of possible trauma-related issues.

Additionally, there should be action and response protocols, accompanied by clarity and easy access to available resources. It is important for leaders and HR personnel to also demonstrate sensitivity and serve as examples of organizational values. In parallel, it’s crucial to foster a psychologically safe environment for close relationships and trust to be built.

What are the 4 R's of a trauma-informed organization?

Realize: Understand the negative impact of trauma on individuals.

Recognize: Identify warning signs in others.

Respond: Ensure the person feels heard and safe. Provide accessible information and resources.

Resist re-traumatization: Avoid interfering with recovery, train others, and build safe spaces.

Editado por

How to create a trauma-informed workplace
Ricardo Guerrero
Media Editor & Newsletter Coordinator
Content & typos creator. He probably posted this blog by himself, and thinks it’s awkward to write his own bio. Fuckuppin’s mom.
funfunfunfun

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