Thrive Space Blog
Creating a Trauma-Informed Workplace

As business leaders, we have a continuing priority to care well for our people. We must not separate the success of our company in fulfilling its mission and outcomes from the primary value of our people and their success and well-being. This challenge has become more intense during the last two years and in the current environment in our nation. Our employees are dealing with pressure from their relationships, finances, job and life uncertainty, as well as the amount of violence, divisiveness, and danger they sense from the influx of media. 

In a recent article in HBR, Katharine Manning addresses the turbulence our people are feeling as an inevitable response to continual crisis: trauma. 

“The past two years have been incredibly turbulent, as we’ve faced Covid, racial violence, political upheaval, environmental disasters, war, and more. Anxiety and depression have skyrocketed. Organizations have had to confront issues they never expected and find new ways to support their employees through repeated traumatic experiences.

The reality, though, is that trauma is not new in our organizations. It’s not going away, either. Estimates are that six in 10 men and five in 10 women experience at least one trauma, and approximately 6% of the population will experience PTSD at some point in their lives. Trauma and distress can arise from a wide array of causes, including domestic violencesexual assaultracismbiasharassmenteconomic uncertaintypolitical division, and more. New challenges arise every day, and conflict and strife anywhere in our globally connected world affect us all.”

Given this reality, we have a leadership responsibility to become trauma-informed and to create a trauma-informed workplace. 

“As we’ve seen the lines between work and home blur and a fundamental shift in our expectations of the places we work, organizations have struggled to provide the support and leadership their employees and customers need. That’s why it’s so important that they take steps now to build the cultures that can see them through this crisis and the ones we’ll all inevitably face in the future. To do that, we need to build trauma-informed organizations.”

The National Fund for Workforce Solutions has produced a helpful resource: A Trauma-Informed Approach to Workforce.

“The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the US Department of Health and Human Services (SAMHSA) is a recognized authority on trauma. 

SAMHSA uses a four Rs rubric to describe a “trauma-informed” organization, program, or system: 

  • Realize the widespread impact of trauma and understand potential paths for recovery; 
  • Recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved with the system; 
  • Respond by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices; and 
  • Actively resist re-traumatization.iii 

There are many strategies for implementing trauma-informed approaches into an organization, depending on the type of organization or business. We highlight one model and set of principles to guide organizations on the journey to becoming trauma-informed. 

The Missouri Model of trauma-informed care breaks it down into four phases of adoption: 

  1. Awareness: Organization becomes aware of how prevalent trauma is and its impact on workers, clients, and business outcomes. 
  2. Sensitivity: Organization begins to understand trauma- informed principles, causes, expressions and possible ways to overcome problems that affect workers and business. 
  3. Response: Organization begins to implement changes that affect culture, routines, and human resource processes to eliminate triggers. 
  4. Informed: Organization begins to implement trauma- informed practices and monitoring the impacts of changes made to policies and practices.”
Creating a Trauma-Informed Workplace

Manning also encourages us to understand the effect of our response as leaders:

“The way organizations support people during periods of trauma is uniquely powerful, and the ramifications are long-lasting. This is because in times of trauma, the twin concepts of institutional betrayal and psychological safety come into play.

When we are in a period of crisis, many of us look to our institutions to support and protect us. If they fail to do so, or if they take steps that we fear will harm us or those we care about, that can create a second injury, called an institutional betrayal. It can arise due to deliberate actions that harm, as well as from failing to act when action is expected. These actions or inactions can exacerbate already-difficult circumstances. 

The flip side of institutional betrayal is psychological safety: the sense that within a team or organization, it is acceptable for someone to admit that they made a mistake, or don’t know the answer, or are struggling. The fastest way to build psychological safety was for team members to support each other through hard times. As Charles Duhigg at The New York Times Magazine put it: “To feel ‘psychologically safe,’ we must know that we can be free enough, sometimes, to share the things that scare us without fear of recriminations. We must be able to talk about what is messy or sad, and to have hard conversations with colleagues who are driving us crazy. We can’t be focused just on efficiency.

Thus, if we fail to respond appropriately in our work with those experiencing trauma, we can add a second injury to the first. But if we respond well, we build trust and connection. Either way, the manner in which we support each other in times of crisis will reverberate in our organizations for many years to come.”

On August 16th, we are holding a webinar on becoming a Trauma-Informed Workplace. We will provide practical ways you can address this critical need for your people. 

We are also available to engage you and your co-leaders to bring this response to your company. Let us know how we can support you.

If you haven’t had a chance to listen to our latest podcast, you can check it out here:

For the Heart of Your Business!


Q&A for this topic:

  • Do you focus on the mental health situation of your employees?
  • Are you aware of the trauma-producing events around your workplace?
  • What resources do you need to make available for your people?
  • What is your plan for addressing a crisis or trauma event in your business?