At some point in their career, every business owner, manager and HR rep will be forced to address difficult issues in the workplace head-on.
They might be discipline issues with a disgruntled employee or a widespread problem of productivity. In the modern workplace, these issues are generally quite straightforward to process. However, issues of physical and mental health often require more sensitivity and substance.
Perhaps none more so than PTSD. Managing the situation isn’t just about doing what’s right for the individual, but also creating a welcoming and understanding culture within the workplace. Today, we’ll look at how you can educate your staff on PTSD in a mature and sensitive manner.
What is PTSD?
PTSD is a very serious condition that generally occurs after a person has experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. PTSD can occur immediately after said event, or as a result of long-term trauma related to it.
The National Center for PTSD estimates that 7-8% of the population in the U.S. will experience PTSD at some point within their lifetime, affecting a total of 5.2 million American adults per year.
PTSD differs from a more typical reaction to trauma in that it has a debilitating impact on the person’s life. People with PTSD may suffer from distress, depression or anxiety for several months or years.
What are the symptoms of PTSD?
As with any mental health condition, the symptoms of PTSD can vary from person to person depending on their personality and the trauma they’ve suffered.
Most typically, however, PTSD symptoms will manifest in three ways — Intrusive, Arousal and Avoidance.
According to UK mental health charity MIND, common symptoms of PTSD include:
- Vivid flashbacks
- Intrusive thoughts
- Physical pain
- Sweating, nausea, trembling
- Feeling on edge
- Struggling with difficult feelings and memories
- Lack of sleep
In the workplace, symptoms of PTSD typically manifest themselves as:
- Fear and anxiety towards tasks and meetings
- Difficulty retaining and remembering information
- Consistent absenteeism
- Trouble keeping focus and staying awake
- Panic attacks
- Physical difficulties
These are serious symptoms that should be treated as such by managers, business owners and colleagues. While they can be indicative of other mental health and physical health concerns, they shouldn’t be seen as a resistance to work and responsibility within the workplace.
How to manage PTSD within your workplace
So how do you manage PTSD in the workplace, whether it’s educating other staff or managing staff suffering from symptoms?
Provide assurance and dialogue
As many find PTSD a sensitive and uncomfortable issue to discuss, it’s important to keep lines of communication open and give employees space to ask for help and approach questions in their own time.
Likewise, it can be helpful to take the initiative and ask your employees how you and other team members can offer better support and improve the workplace for them.
Take a relaxed approach to dialogue. Keep your door open and use empathic listening to make employees feel comfortable and relax. It’s important to understand many employees will be reluctant to talk at first and that the best course of action is often to let them open up in their own time. Patience is important and alternative forms of communication such as email or conveying messages through HR should always be made available.
Meet employee needs
Measures to manage PTSD in your workplace should always be based on the feedback and needs of the employees living with it.
This will vary from person to person, so it’s important to develop an adaptable plan of action that considers their personal triggers and experiences. This might be something they share during the interview or onboarding process (in which case, you can begin to implement it immediately) or something that needs to be developed as a reaction. Either way, their needs should come first in your efforts to develop a PTSD-friendly workplace.
You can make small adjustments to how you and your workforce manage their day-to-day interactions, meetings and workflow. Offer safe spaces for relaxation and give them time to establish and address their workplace triggers. There may be a period of adjustment and lowered productivity, but it will benefit your employees and business in the long-run.
Hold training seminars (when appropriate)
Training seminars and talks are an important part of educating your workforce. It’s a way to make sure everyone is on the same page and establish a company-wide set of rules, procedures and attitudes.
However, these should always be held with the permission of the affected staff and managed sensitively. Forcing them to come up and detail their experiences is an example of bad practice. Quietly and privately informing your team of the situation and how they should react and conduct themselves to reduce triggers is a much more sensible and sensitive way to address concerns and raise awareness.
If seminars aren’t appropriate or possible, provide educational material on how colleagues in the immediate vicinity and working remotely can better work alongside those suffering from PTSD. Some great materials include:
Professions where PTSD is prevalent
Whether they’re your line of work or you’re hiring from within them, here are some professions where PTSD is particularly prevalent and managers should be as vigilant as possible.
Experience in and adjacent to combat is a high-risk factor for the development of PTSD, making careers in the military unfortunately synonymous with the condition.
PTSD amongst war veterans is disproportionately high, both in those who served decades ago and in modern conflicts. Coupled with difficulties to find employment after their time serving, this can lead many veterans struggling to find not just purpose, but support for their symptoms.
With many veterans unable to access financial support for invisible disabilities and mental health concerns through typical avenues, numerous organizations have been established just to help them get recognition and win their funding. This shows the strain military workplace conditions such as PTSD are having not just on people’s personal lives, but the healthcare and charity systems within the country itself.
If the past year has taught us anything, it’s the stress healthcare workers often find themselves working under. COVID-19 laid bare the stress and trauma both typical and unique healthcare working conditions can cause.
Not only are hospitals forced to manage and perform within the context of ever-diminishing budgets, but the strain and stress of public dependency can make their jobs almost impossible to do.
The modern healthcare worker is at first from two sides, regularly displaying high rates of mental health concerns while living with the potential of violent attacks from patients. While the latter is rare, it can lead to continued distress and symptoms throughout a healthcare worker’s career.
Individuals within first responder professions such as police officers and firefighters are repeatedly subjected to traumatic events such as car accidents, shootings, and major natural disasters.
Not only do they witness these events and their aftermaths themselves, but they have to juggle that with the trauma of others they work closely with at their most vulnerable. Whether it’s a car accident or the loss of a home, these events and images stay with them.
Paramedics and other ambulance workers consistently display higher rates of PTSD than the general population.
Reporters and photojournalists often find themselves in close quarters with traumatic events.
Much like healthcare workers, they exist within close proximity to not just traumatic events themselves, but the people most closely affected by them. Processing loss, pain and suffering as part of their everyday work while balancing it with tight deadlines and the pressure of the modern journalism industry takes its toll.
Reporters may not be the first thing people think of when it comes to PTSD, but the cases are well-documented.
While the actual role of a lawyer is stressful, the work itself is rarely traumatic. What can be traumatic, however, is the proximity to troubling and upsetting events.
As someone involved in law professionally, you’re often forced to watch people relive traumatic experiences and absorb distressing information. This can have an impact on more sensitive legal professionals who are already struggling with significant workloads.
Educating yourself on PTSD can be just as difficult as educating your staff, but both are extremely worthwhile experiences for business owners and managers looking to build diverse and welcoming workforces. To ensure you’re building safe spaces where workers have the ability and environment to thrive, make sure education is at the heart of your operation.