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The Benefits and Pitfalls of Managing Workplace Trauma

When something happens that is threatening, distressing and unexpected, most people will experience a reaction that can be unpleasant, disturbing and potentially overwhelming. Just as, if you are physically hit, you bruise, so an emotional or psychological shock can have an impact that takes time to fade.

In the majority of cases, reactions will subside over time as the person gradually comes to terms with the experience and its effects. This does not mean it is pleasant and for these few days or weeks, good management and social support can make a huge difference. In fact, where the human perspective is handled well there are great benefits for all concerned:

  • An effective trauma support programme can contribute to improved workplace morale, better working relationships and increased employee satisfaction as staff feel valued and cared for
  • Supportive management involvement, as part of the post incident procedures, leads to organisational empowerment and reduced stress for managers and ultimately increased productivity, through employees being healthier, happier and better motivated
  • More effective treatments and early intervention result in financial savings including reduced sickness absence, and costs of sickness cover or overtime and recruitment
  • Good procedures for recovery and rehabilitation can reduce exposure to reputational damage and the financial costs of prosecution or litigation

However, if we get it wrong the results can be devastating in terms of the human suffering and the ripple effect to families and colleagues. The organisation is also negatively affected by sickness absence, low staff morale and mistrust and cynicism towards welfare processes. If the organisation is not perceived to care then why should its employees? It’s a lose-lose situation all round.

So how do you determine whether what you are doing is the right thing? Well, following over 30 years experience in varied organisational settings including the police service, security industry and the voluntary sector, we’ve identified the most common pitfalls and mistakes that well-meaning organisations make. Here are some of them:

  • Being reactive rather than proactive. Preparation is vital to good management
  • Trauma support policies and procedures are not tailored to fit within the organisation’s existing procedures and resources – in these cases, they are simply sitting on the shelf and a waste of effort and resources
  • Inconsistent advice is being given to managers by “professionals” on what to do and when or rigid policies have been created that only fit certain events
  • Individuals receive counselling support that is not evidence based as effective and therefore recovery is often long and slow. Individuals are likely to stay “in counselling” for a long time, with the organisation not being aware of what is going on and feeling disempowered or frustrated
  • Where evidence based treatment, such as psycho-education, is provided the standard can vary hugely – do you know the professional criteria for choosing a good trauma therapist?
  • A lack of qualified trauma therapists can mean people are off work for several weeks before receiving support
  • The stigma around accessing therapy often means many people, particularly in traditionally macho industries, delay or avoid accessing support programmes leading to chronic issues

Having seen the impact of both good and bad interventions, we are passionate about educating organisations. This is what underpins all our workplace trauma solutions.