Are trauma-informed workplaces the way forward?

A senior employee was referred by her employer for coaching to help with her confidence and identification with the term “imposter syndrome”.

She had been considered a high performer but concerns were surfacing about her demeanour and stress levels which were impacting her team and people’s perception of her.

This was an inspired move by the Head of HR who had a hunch that something wasn't quite right.  In fact it became a huge turning point in this woman’s life.

It was rapidly apparent that her confidence issues were manifesting as chronic anxiety and in fact she had been doing quite a good job in hiding it’s full effects from her employer.

So after some gentle, compassionate inquiry, it was clear this lady was suffering from what can only be described as a post-trauma response.

A response to an event that had happened in her early twenties.

She was in a steady relationship and unbeknown to her, she was pregnant and found out when she began to miscarry the baby.  Her partners response to her “stupidity” and “irresponsibility” was full of rage and shaming.  He left her to deal with her pain and loss on her own.

He also vowed that if she ever told anyone, he would deny it.  Needless to say the relationship ended.

And she stuck to her vow and never told another living soul what happened.  The loss, the pain, the trauma response associated with this event has been with her, in her words “I live with this every single day of my life”.

The real tragedy occurred due to her not being able to process this painful experience in a safe, loving and compassionate way where she could be seen, heard and validated and instead she was chased by the emotional ghosts of this experience for the next 14 years of her life.

It is was not possible for her employer to have known the extent of her anxiety, or the root cause of it, but the Head of HR’s hunch that something wasn’t quite right, was bang on.

So here’s what I urge you to consider:-

  • Past trauma can have debilitating effects on a person’s wellbeing
  • Which will inevitably affect their performance at work
  • Despite how well they try to hide it
Trauma is massively misunderstood.  Leading trauma expert Dr Gabor Mate states that “trauma is not what happened to you, but what happens inside of you as a result of the experience”.

Trauma can show up as a result of experiencing war, genocide, violence, sexual abuse or it can be caused by the absence of something that SHOULD have happened but didn’t. 

In this case, she had no loving, compassionate support during this painful time for her.  Instead she was shamed, ridiculed and threatened into silence.  She was only 21 years of age when this happened.

In 22 years of working in HR, the best examples of employee engagement have arisen in companies that truly care about their people and this is a brilliant example of one that did.

And as employers, we can never know what emotional history an employee brings with them BUT, if workplaces, starting with HR functions and Line Managers were at least trauma-informed, what might this achieve?

  • Might we achieve a more compassionate approach to the human part of work?
  • Might we view “poor” performance, personality conflicts and “bad” behaviour in a different light and instead of rapidly discarding the human, first consider what REALLY might be going on for them?

Then perhaps, disciplinary processes and dismissals would truly be a last resort and employers would not be throwing away otherwise talented humans.

Something to think about it if you have a desire to create a more conscious and compassionate workplace.

Tracey Murphy is an Emotional Transformation Coach who works with individuals and employers to build compassionate, employee-centric cultures that are trauma-informed.  more information is available at www.wisdom-springs.com