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How Considering Trauma Can Improve Workplaces

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the health, finances and careers of millions of employees. Many became seriously ill or were impacted by health issues of family members. And many are suffering from symptoms of Long COVID, a serious, ongoing source of stress and illness.

As a society, we have been traumatized by the pandemic since 2020, but trauma is also experienced in other ways throughout everyday life, such as illness, injury, loss, violence, harassment and racism. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “Individual trauma results from an event, series of events or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional or spiritual well-being.”1 Trauma literally changes our behavior, our brains, our metabolism and even our genes.

Does your management style take into account employees’ history of trauma? Many experts are advising an innovative approach toward supervision that does just that: trauma-informed management.

Approximately 60% of men and 50% of women experience at least one trauma in their lives.2

What Is Trauma-Informed Management?

Trauma-informed management is an approach that recognizes when people’s responses and behaviors may reflect the ongoing effects of trauma they’ve experienced in the past. It utilizes strategies identified by recent neurological research to communicate with and direct others without triggering or retraumatizing them.

Employees who have been traumatized often exhibit triggering in the form of “fight, flight or freeze” reactions, even in lower-stress situations where such a response is inappropriate. While these mental and physical reactions to trauma are completely normal responses to abnormal events, their effect on work situations is not always recognized. Since workplaces depend on healthy responses to everyday work stress, employees can benefit greatly from a management approach that is informed by the possible impact of trauma on workers.

What does a management approach informed by trauma look like? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are six guiding principles for a trauma-informed approach:3

  1. Safety
  2. Trustworthiness and transparency
  3. Peer support
  4. Collaboration and mutuality
  5. Empowerment and choice
  6. Cultural, historical and gender issues

For an organization to embrace a trauma-informed management model fully, it must adopt a trauma-informed organizational mission and commit resources to support it. It requires ongoing awareness and sensitivity, and must be imbedded into the culture of leadership, management and overall work environment. The trauma-informed manager should:4

  • Realize the widespread impact of trauma
  • Recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma in employees, especially in terms of identifying when workers are triggered by situations in the workplace
  • Remove employees who have been triggered from the situation and communicate to them in a supportive, empathic manner
  • Be prepared to offer resources for help, if requested
  • Give directives in clear and concrete terms
  • Actively avoid re-traumatization

It’s also important for employers to realize that effective accommodations exist for trauma survivors and to partner with their benefits vendors to identify appropriate options for supporting workers who have been traumatized.

Trauma-Informed Management in the Workplace

With a work environment informed by trauma, employees with a history of trauma can more readily discuss their needs and receive the support that can help them recover. This may help them stay at work or, if they go out on disability leave, return to work sooner. An employer that uses trauma-informed management can help identify employees with trauma-related issues, proactively encourage them and help connect them with appropriate program providers for assistance.

Trauma-informed interventions have been shown to successfully improve the mental health, employability and life outcomes of individuals.5

Want to Learn More?


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