A colleague of mine recently attended an educational conference. She met a teacher during a session about working with students who have experienced trauma. The teacher said she knew how to help traumatized students, but asked wonderingly, “How do I help me? You have to get into their lives in order to teach them. And their trauma is deep. It stays with you. So here’s my question: After I go over the line to help them, who pulls me back?”
Sadly, traumatic situations do not only affect students and their teachers. Many working professionals have also experienced workplace trauma, which can be categorized as follows: (1) stressful events (death, grief, suicide, accident or injury), (2) organizational stressors (bullying, threats, harassment, betrayal, maliciousness, extreme isolation, chronic pressure, toxic work environment, uncertainty, fear for the future, downsizing or fear of unemployment), (3) physical stressors (noise, chaotic environment, sense of no control over space, fear for physical safety, harsh or flashing lights, extremes of heat or cold, working amid construction) and (4) external threats (evacuation, lockdown, fire or robbery).
According to a recent national poll measuring the impact of traumatic workplace events, found that the top four workplace events that caused the most trauma, stress and anxiety are as follows:
1. Employer announcing layoffs/job losses (28 percent)
2. Workplace violence/criminal activity in the community (25 percent)
3. Death of a colleague/co-worker (19 percent)
4. Natural disaster impacting the workplace (14 percent)
The poll found that 53 percent of working Americans have experienced a traumatic event while on the job. But among those, less than half (46 percent) said their employer offered any type of support to help them grieve, cope or recover in the aftermath. At the same time, two-thirds of employees (67 percent) responded that counseling or emotional support from their employer following a traumatic or tragic workplace event is something they would consider a valuable benefit.
Leaders who properly support their people not only help their workforce recover and bounce back quickly, but they also make a clear statement that says “At this company, our people come first.”
It may be easier said than done, but leaders who want to successfully and sustainably support their people must be able to keep themselves strong and fresh. They need to understand that they won’t be able to help others if they don’t help themselves while maintaining healthy boundaries.
We also need to recognize that we can’t do it alone. Sure, we may be well trained and feel equipped. But in most cases, traumatic situations are far too big and complex for a single person to handle independently.
Here are some things leaders can do to stay healthy, energized and properly buoyed so they can be fully supportive of their employees’ needs.
1. Develop a growth mindset: Our mindsets play a significant role in how situations affect us. If we view our roles more narrowly, as in instructional providers and facilitators, then we will feel drained when we extend beyond our comfort zones. Our fixed mentalities will convince us that we simply cannot go there. Leaders who embrace the “new normal” of leadership, however, will find ways to “grow” and start to view themselves as capable of properly dealing with it.
2. Don’t take it personally: Employees who have experienced trauma aren’t trying to push your buttons. They are simply dealing with complicated situations and may not have the tools and bandwidth to do so in predictable and rational ways.
3. Remind yourself of your impact, even when you can’t see it: Henry Adams once said, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” The same, to an extent, can be said for leaders. We simply cannot know the impact of our work while we are performing it.
4. Disconnect: We all need personal time. As much as you want to help and be available, make sure to disconnect often so you can recharge and bring your best self to each situation.
5. Prioritize your health: If we are unhealthy, how can we hope to help others get healthier and whole? Proper nutrition and ample sleep are absolutely critical to ensure that we stay well and remain the influencers we need to be.
6. Get support: Make full use of counselors and other professionals whose role is to support you and your people. If you don’t have such professionals on staff, be proactive in connecting with and vetting some so that you can access their services as needed.
By Rabbi Dr. Naphtali Hoff