Employee Assistance Program                                                   June 2018 Newsletter

Coping through Trauma:
Getting the Support You Need

A common misconception about trauma is that people only experience it after a life-threatening event or illness. In fact, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, while trauma may result from such an event, it may also result from any event or set of circumstances   experienced as physically or emotionally harmful, and which has a lasting adverse effect on an individual's functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.

If you are treated in a way that severely impacts your life, whether you are constantly dealing with an aggressive         co-worker or emotional abuse from a partner, you may     experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress as a result. June is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Month, so this month we're exploring trauma's impact on our lives and ways you and your loved ones can cope through traumatic experiences.
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In This Issue
The HR Desk: 
What It Means 
To Be a Trauma-Informed Workplace, And Why It Matters

This month, EAP's employee newsletter defines trauma, explores how it affects individuals, and identifies some avenues for support and stress management. In the HR Desk, our EAP clinical staff breaks down how you can best support your employees through traumatic experience (and support workplace safety as a whole) by developing a trauma-informed workplace that emphasizes resilience, safety and education.

The Impact of Trauma on the Workplace

Most people have experienced or will experience trauma sometime in their life. According to the American Psychological Association, a n estimated 5.2 million American adults ages 18 to 54, or approximately 3.6 percent of people in this age group in a given year, have PTSD. Trauma takes a high toll on employees, and it can directly impact the workplace in many ways, including:
  • Higher Absenteeism
  • Increased Workplace accidents
  • Unproductive risk-taking
  • Decreased problem-solving skills
  • Increased Presenteeism (the employee is at work but 'out of it' and unfocused)
  • Workplace violence and/or critical incidents
  • Negative impact on clients or customers
"It's also important to remember that trauma's impact extends beyond the typical categories of absenteeism or accidents," Jocelyn Bos-Fisher, EAP Clinical Program Manager, reminds us. " At EAP, we see the impact on the workplace in many unmeasurable ways. For example, trauma can affect an individual's ability to form positive relations and interpret social situations - he might view everyday interactions as threatening even if they're not. If an individual can't receive a directive without feeling threatened, that is going to greatly impact team dynamics."

In addition, if your organization has employees that work with patients or clients who have experienced trauma, they may also be at higher risk of experiencing secondary traumatic stress, or stress that results from hearing about the firsthand trauma experiences of others. Secondary trauma may lead to burnout, anxiety, fatigue, emotional detachment and exhaustion; it also may trigger employees who themselves have experienced trauma in the past. 

What it Means to Be Trauma-Informed

It's not the role of an organization to treat trauma; however, when organizations are "trauma-informed," they are committed to being sensitive to the ways in which trauma might impact their employees and clients.  There are five key principles that are recognized by the human services field as a guide to  what a trauma informed workplace should look like:

Employee empowerment: employees are resilient, and they should be empowered to use their strengths and experience to grow professionally. They should be validated and affirmed for what they bring to the organization. 

Choice:  employees should understand their rights and responsibilities in the workplace, and when possible they should have options in identifying what supports and resources they need.

Collaboration: m aximizing collaboration among all levels of employees, from the CEO to front line staff, helps build processes around communication, decision making, and day to day workplace functioning. It also creates a venue for feedback and shares power throughout the organization.

Safety:  all employees and customers should  feel physically, emotionally, and socially safe at all times.

Trustworthiness :  employees should have clear expectations about their work and job descriptions, and respectful and professional boundaries should be maintained.

"These principles are recognized as a fundamental framework to guide organizations, and they can play out in many different ways depending on the situation," Bos-Fisher says. For example, if an employee is being disciplined, a trauma informed approach might be to make sure the meeting occurs in a private space where the individual's back is not to the door and where both manager and employee are sitting at the same level. It might also involve giving clear expectations of how the individual needs to change, along with a recognition of what that individual is doing well, and it may involve some collaboration to produce a plan for the future. 

Each organization will develop trauma informed care that fits their work and unique needs, but what's most important is that these principles don't just stay principles but are truly embedded into workplace culture.  "While it is important to have trauma-informed policies and procedures," Bos-Fisher says,"it's also important to make sure that these policies and procedures are communicated to staff and that they are actually happening."

"While it is important to have trauma-informed policies and procedures, it's also important to make sure that these policies and procedures are communicated to staff and that they are actually happening." 

Steps Towards a Trauma-Informed Workplace

You can take immediate steps towards building a trauma informed workplace, ranging from simple everyday culture change to more systemic policy and procedure restructuring. Bos-Fisher stresses that above all, any steps towards becoming more trauma-informed have to have leadership support. "You can do everything right in building policies for a trauma informed workplace, but if the leaders haven't bought in, then it won't work."

Create a safe physical environment:
  • Keep workspaces well lit, and discourage loitering outside entrances and exits.
  • Monitor who comes in and out of your building.
  • Use welcoming language on any signage.
Create a safe social/emotional environment
  • Reinforce the importance of healthy interpersonal boundaries and conflict resolution. If you come across a situation that needs conflict resolution or mediation, remember that you have mediation and conflict resolution services available through EAP.
  • Keep consistent schedules and procedures, and offer sufficient notice and preparation when changes are necessary.
  • Be aware of how someone's culture and background affects how they perceive trauma, safety, and privacy. "Cultural humility is important," Bos-Fisher emphasizes. "How you perceive the world is not necessarily how someone else perceives it."
Bring in training: 
  • EAP's Supervisory Training helps managers and supervisors understand the potential signs and symptoms of employee distress. It also teaches managers and supervisors how to use EAP as a tool to manage employees experiencing distress and as a resource for employees experiencing trauma.
  • In addition to the training that they provide through EAP, The Institute on Trauma and Trauma-Informed Care provides additional training for organizations on trauma and trauma-informed care through evaluation, trauma-specific treatment interventions, technical assistance and consultation. Their training can be online or offline, and it will be tailored to the needs of each individual organization. 
Focus on employee's strengths
  • While managers and supervisors need to be able to critique an employee's work or offer productive criticism, focusing only on the negative can feed into the anxiety or stress around a traumatic experience. "It's important not to have a 'Gotcha' culture," says Bos-Fisher. "When an organization builds a culture of feedback and appreciation, an employee will have more confidence in their ability to improve and grow, which we know is a key component of building resilience."
  • Make sure that there are policies and procedures around performance evaluations, so that there is a consistent way of documenting issues that is trauma-informed.
  • Bring in managerial training to give your managers and supervisors more confidence in themselves and in their ability to manage others. Managerial training is provided through EAP as part of your contracted seminar hours. 

EAP as a Tool for Trauma-Informed Care

EAP is a natural partner for organizations looking to be trauma informed. When employees are impacted, we provide support both individually, with counseling, and collectively, for Critical Incident Response. We have information on trauma to share with organizations, and we can work with managers and supervisors, through consults, to better understand the impact of trauma and develop trauma-informed practices themselves. Finally, EAP is itself trauma informed - we follow the guidelines for trauma-informed care, and we are committed to creating a safe, confidential, and respectful environment where strengths are validated, decision making is collaborative, and employees and employers are empowered to achieve their goals and objectives.

EAP in the Community: Supporting Diversity and Inclusion

In May, Account Manager Jennifer Zeitler attended "Maximizing the Value of Diversity and Inclusion." This event, sponsored by the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, brought together thought-leaders in HR and beyond to share tools for inclusion. 

Discussions centered on the significant ties between fostering a diverse workforce and better business performance outcomes. Attendees were engaged with stories of success within various local and national companies, and learned how to adjust current systems to better avoid discrimination in all forms. 

The bottom line? To be competitive, businesses need to attract and retain diversity within all levels of a company for the best outcomes. Inclusion isn't just the right approach - it's good business. 
Stay Connected

Remember, these newsletters and other important EAP information are only a click away. Visit our website at http://eap.cfsbny.org/

email: jzeitler@cfsbny.org
office: 716.681.4300
cell: 716.200.2090
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