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Is trauma a subject relevant to the workplace?

trauma informed Mindfulness
Trauma sensitive workplace

When we hear the word trauma the tendency is for a catastrophic event to come to mind. So is trauma a subject relevant to the workplace?

Trauma encompasses much more than dramatic events. It can stem from incidents buried deep within our childhood memories, shaping our subconscious and influencing our lives in profound ways.

Trauma is defined as “an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or threatening and has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.”

I experienced trauma. It was through my mindfulness practice that I started to unravel the impact of past traumas in my life which prompted me to seek the necessary therapeutic support. Mindfulness skills us in noticing. Mindfulness strengthens our attention muscles. We become more aware of our automatic helpful and unhelpful behaviours. We become more tuned into body feeling tones all of which are sending information that we so often ignore, and become conscious of that human tendency to get caught up in the overthinking mind. Reflecting back, I realised now that I exhibited unhealthy and unhelpful behaviours, which were driven ybpast trauma, and ones which carried over to the workplace like:

– Hesitant to voice my opinion as I was stifled by the fear of rejection and low self-esteem.

– Avoiding having those difficult conversations, leading to internalised emotions that later erupted into unhelpful outbursts.

– Inability to say no, resulting in poor workload management and unhealthy work relationships.

Each of us has our own story. In today’s world, the existence of trauma in the working population is compounded by the constant exposure to global crises—wars, famine, violence, climate change, pandemics, and technological disruption. This unrelenting uncertainty breeds anxiety and is eroding mental wellbeing. In Ireland, one in five people will experience a diagnosable mental illness each year, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) predicts mental illness to be the leading cause of disease by 2030.

The WHO also reports around 70% of people globally will experience a potentially traumatic event during their lifetime, yet only a minority (5.6%) will develop PTSD.

A trauma-sensitive work environment acknowledges individual differences and lived experiences. Complex strategies aren’t necessary; fostering compassionate noticing in other words promoting mindful habits is key. The following recommendations will support your organisation in integrating a wholistic approach to workplace wellbeing programmes that recognises trauma, its impact and how to manage it.

Acknowledging Trauma Exists

Acknowledging trauma, understanding its prevalence, and knowing how to support staff affected by it are crucial steps toward a holistic approach to workplace well-being. While the workplace cannot substitute for therapeutic or clinical intervention, avoiding triggering or compounding existing traumas is an essential aspect of its wellbeing strategy. I would argue many organisations already engage in activities that are trauma sensitive without knowing. Bringing awareness to the subject ensures a wider understanding of trauma, and encourages behaviours that are trauma sensitive.

Build Trauma Sensitive Behaviours through Mindful Programmes

In our digitally connected yet emotionally disconnected world, fostering genuine connection requires attuned and attentive communication. Mindfulness cultivates behaviours that enhances our emotional dialogues with ourselves and others. When workplace mindfulness programs are implemented in a consistent manner, they build deep connections among colleagues encouraging reflective communication that values both deep listening and wise speaking. Promoting mindfulness nurtures psychological safety through heightened emotional literacy. Mindful behaviours strengthens both personal and social awareness. It avoids behaviours like workplace bullying one of many factors that triggers re-traumatisation.

Creating a Psychological Safe Environment

Amy Edmondson who coined the term ‘psychological safety’ said it takes years to build but moments to tear down. Psychological safety cannot be simply learned from a slide deck. Creating an environment where people feel safe to be themselves, to voice themselves without fear of personal or social conflict is about habitualising behaviours and attitudes that are conducive to creating a psychological safe environment.

Leaders who model empathy build psychological safety in the workplace. Empathy involves connecting with others’ emotions, setting aside judgments, and understanding different perspectives. It is about truly listening to each other. When people feel their perspective is understood and they are listened to, such behaviours foster connection, which is often lacking in workplaces. Building connection contributes to that safe feeling tone in the workplace. The place where it is okay not to be okay. That place where you show up ‘as I am’ without fear or worry of facing behaviours that causes re-traumatization.

Promoting and Supporting Mental Well-being

My first job was with Du Pont in 1991. Du Pont prided itself on safety. Its induction and continuous education on health and safety was impressive. The programme focused on house keeping, safe behaviours like holding hand rails keeping physically fit and healthy eating ( we had a gym on site and a top class canteen which was quite rare in those days). Employee mental wellbeing was supported through the initiatives outlined, however it was not explicitly stated. Today, there is an increased awareness among businesses of the importance in supporting employee mental wellbeing. Referencing the existence of trauma in a mental health policy and explicitly outlining supports that support a trauma-sensitive work environment creates a trauma informed workplace. Behaviours that promote mental wellbeing include:

– Actively promoting tools like Mental Health Ireland’s Five Ways to Wellbeing.

– Encouraging mindful breaks between meetings.

– Facilitating safe team reflections.

– Including a gratitude slot in weekly team meetings.

Conclusion

Is trauma a subject relevant to the workplace? Evidence informed research points in the direction of a more informed approach about trauma in the workplace . In summary, there is a close correlation between creating a psychologically safe space and a trauma-sensitive work environment. It’s about knowing that trauma exists, being aware of our inner dialogues and emotions, listening deeply, speaking wisely, and valuing the uniqueness of our colleagues. By doing so, we build a connected workplace that harnesses the collective intelligence of all.

Click Here. to learn more about how to integrate a sustainable approach to mindfulness in the workplace which supports trauma sensitive behaviours and attitudes.

Article by Susan Keane, extensive experience working with organisation in developing and implementing evidence based workplace mindfulness programmes that are trauma informed. www.susankeane.ie

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