Traumatic Events and the Workplace: Coping & Surviving

There is a mindset in American workplaces that workers should do their best to “keep it professional” and “leave their personal baggage and issues at home.” However, in many circumstances, that is easier said than done. A variety of issues can impact an individual’s ability to be effective during the hours of nine and five—and can substantially shift the dynamics of an office amongst colleagues and co-workers. If an individual has had their life altered by the death of a loved one, suicide, violence, robbery, even divorce or separation—don’t expect that person to be able to turn it on and turn it off when they punch in or punch out for the day. The fallout of these types of events is all-encompassing and can oftentimes be all consuming.

Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms

When an individual is facing mental and emotional distress because of an event that occurred in their life, business leaders and managers must not only be able to recognize the presence of certain symptoms, but also deploy resources to help the individual manage.

When someone experiences a traumatic event, there are myriad emotions and reactions that can occur. Stay aware of the following:

  • Emotions related to grief and confusion as well as shock, anger, and fear;
  • Mood swings that range between irritability, anger, restlessness—as well as listlessness and lack of caring;
  • Obsessive and intrusive thoughts that could provide flashbacks of the event that occurred;
  • Expressions or feelings of being helpless and powerless;
  • A feeling of disconnection from the day-to-day world and present reality;
  • Lack of concentration;
  • Changes in sleep patterns and lack of appetite;
  • Anxiety and manic behavior; and
  • Physical symptoms related to fatigue, digestive problems, headache, and weight loss.

Understand that your co-worker is likely dealing with a range of issues, both emotional and mental, and that when a traumatic event occurs, there is not a “one-size-fits-all” response. At the same time, you, as a manager, can also help your co-worker by introducing a coping strategy that can aid them through their crisis. Some helpful methods to do this are as follows:

  • Encourage a co-worker to pay attention to physical needs, such as what they are eating and how much they are sleeping. These are essential components to both short- and long-term health.
  • Do not rush a co-worker to return to work. Let them know that they should take time to grieve. Make sure they understand that they have the support of your organization and that their job will not be in jeopardy. Do your best, as their employer, to remain flexible to this policy.
  • Ask your co-worker who they have around to support them as they should not be isolated at this time. If they do not have a support system, let them know that members of the office are there to help, should they so wish. Remember not to force assistance on an individual who is already feeling overwhelmed. Make sure they know people are there for them—but don’t make your help absolutely mandatory unless they ask for it.
  • Provide resources to your co-worker related to employee assistance programs or call insurance providers to help the individual understand the full scope of services available to them related to mental health counseling, exercise or physical therapy programs, and the like.
  • Help your co-worker stay aware of coping mechanisms that could negatively impact their health during this time of turmoil. Be alert for signs of alcohol and drug abuse and educate yourself on workplace intervention or drug treatment programs that could be made available to a person in need.

Of course, I also realize that it is difficult to completely understand your role when helping a co-worker deal with personal trauma. The American workplace can be murky in today’s modern world—and no employer wants to voluntarily make themselves liable in an area that is rife with potential employment law landmines. Therefore, if you need additional assistance or if you are looking for strategies to help your co-worker heal and move through the grieving process, contact me by visiting www.BLTStrategies.comtoday. I can help customize a plan that works for your company and your workers.

Mary Ellen Wasielewski