Across the globe, people are living through sustained trauma on a scale not seen in over 70 years – since the end of World War 2. In South Africa, the colossal impact of the COVID-19 pandemic along with a lasting negative effect of recent civil unrest have left individuals, communities and businesses in a state of shock. With the impact of these recurring and complex traumas, it is important for organisations to consider incorporating a trauma-informed approach to routinely help their workers feel safe and supported, as well as assisting their employees overcome the aftermath of a particular trauma when the need arises.
“… it is important for organisations to consider incorporating a trauma-informed approach to routinely help their workers feel safe and supported…”
“A trauma-informed workplace recognises trauma at both an individual and organisational level.”
What does it mean to be a trauma-informed workplace?
A trauma-informed workplace recognises trauma at both an individual and organisational level. When organisations are “trauma-informed,” they are committed to being sensitive to the ways in which trauma might impact their employees and clients. According to the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the key principles of the trauma-informed approach are safety, transparency, peer support, collaboration, empowerment, and understanding of cultural, gender, and other diversity factors. These principles are easily transferable to any workplace and align well with existing models for improving team communication and developing emotional intelligence
Here is a blueprint built around these six key principles that describe what a trauma-informed workplace could look like:
- Safety: All employees and customers feel physically, emotionally, and socially safe at all times.
- Trustworthiness: Employees have clear expectations about their work and job descriptions, and are respectful of professional boundaries that should be maintained.
- Collaboration: There is collaboration across all levels of employees, from the CEO to front line staff, helping to build processes around communication, decision making, and day-to-day workplace functioning. This creates a venue for feedback and shares power throughout the organisation.
- Employee empowerment: Employees are resilient and empowered to use their strengths and experience to grow professionally. They are validated and affirmed for what they bring to the organisation.
- Choice: Employees understand their rights and responsibilities in the workplace, and they have options in identifying what supports and resources they need.
- Understanding: There is awareness and acceptance of the common differences between cultures in the workplace. This improves communication, which increases trust, improves work relationships and streamlines projects.
What is trauma-informed care?
Trauma-informed care is a framework for human service delivery that is based on knowledge and understanding of how trauma affects people’s lives. A trauma-informed approach to care acknowledges that health care organisations and care teams need to have a complete picture of a patient’s life situation — past and present — in order to provide effective health care services with a healing orientation. Trauma-informed care (TIC) shifts the focus from “What is wrong with you?” to “What happened to you?” Adopting trauma-informed practices can potentially improve patient engagement, treatment adherence, and health outcomes, as well as provider and staff wellness.
“A trauma-informed approach to care acknowledges that health care organisations and care teams need to have a complete picture of a patient’s life situation…”
” A system employing a trauma-informed care approach acknowledges the direct impact that trauma can have on people’s ability to access services and responds by changing policies, procedures and practices…”
A trauma-informed care approach
A trauma-informed care approach strives to understand an individual who is seeking assistance, holistically. When trauma occurs, it can affect an individual’s sense of self, their sense of others and their beliefs about the world. These beliefs can directly impact an individual’s ability or motivation to connect with support services. A system employing a trauma-informed care approach acknowledges the direct impact that trauma can have on people’s ability to access services and responds by changing policies, procedures and practices to minimise these potential barriers.
An organisation making use of a trauma-informed approach also trains staff to recognise the signs and symptoms of trauma and so avoid any possibility of re-traumatisation. Re-traumatisation occurs when a person re-experiences a previously traumatic event, either consciously or unconsciously. This can be caused by stressors that are similar to the environment or circumstance of the original trauma, such as smell, physical space, lighting, imagery, memory, or even a new relationship that mimics a previously traumatic one.
EAP as a tool for trauma-informed care
EAPs make a natural partner for organisations looking to be trauma informed.
- When employees are impacted, EA practitioners can provide employee support both individually, with counselling, and collectively, when Critical Incident Response is required.
- EAPs have a wealth of information on trauma to share with organisations, and can work with managers and supervisors, upfront, to better understand the impact of trauma and develop trauma-informed practices themselves.
While each organisation should develop a system of trauma informed care that fits their unique needs, what is of vital importance is that these principles don’t just stay principles but are practically woven into workplace culture.