Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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PTSD and Your Workplace: Tips to Understanding and Supporting Your Employees

PTSD blogThis past week, we were asked once again to commemorate Remembrance Day, and the men and women we have lost in battle, as well as those who have returned to Canadian soil with not just physical but also mental wounds. The citizens of Paris, and the world at large (mainly through 24/7 media), are currently being impacted by the senseless terrorism of this past weekend to the point where people may be asking themselves: “is the world at war?”

Trauma can affect anyone, not just our brave soldiers, and the emotional scars can affect our personal and professional lives, deeply.

There are many difficult circumstances we all must cope with at some point in our lives, but some individuals will experience sudden or unexpected devastating events that can be psychologically impactful. When individuals with this kind of experience “re-live” the situation that caused fear and shock through: sleepless nights, nightmares and fear, loss of appetite, interest, concentration, and flashbacks among others – and these feelings persist in their daily lives long after the event – they may be diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can be caused by a psychologically traumatic event involving actual or threatened death or serious injury to oneself or others. Often, the symptoms of PTSD can emerge even three months after the incident, and for some, a stressor can cause symptoms to surface years later. When symptoms are delayed, those with PTSD don’t often make the connection between the traumatic event and the feelings and behavioural symptoms.

These signs may first become apparent in the workplace as performance-related issues. There may be changes in behaviour that seem out of character, as well as social and interpersonal conflicts, resistance to authority, bullying, or emotional eruptions. Avoidance of certain activities (such as driving if involved in a car accident), sleep disruptions, difficulty concentrating, and being easily startled or irritated are some additional indicators of PTSD, and mental health issues such as depression or addictions may also be present.

Some occupations such as soldiers, firefighters, doctors, paramedics, police officers and nurses – namely first responders, have double the risk of experiencing PTSD, but the disorder can affect anyone. With about 8% of Canadians experiencing PTSD at some point in their lives, some of your employees could be suffering in silence, and that has a direct impact on their personal wellbeing, productivity, and on your organization.

People with PTSD may feel shame or guilt, and because of this, they may be hesitant to disclose. So how can you help your employees cope if they’re afraid to reach out? Ask your employee what would be helpful to him/her.

I’d like to share with you a number of tips to accommodate some of the more common issues that arise among sufferers of PTSD in the workplace:

  • Memory: provide employees with written instructions and meeting minutes, verbal prompts and reminders and encourage employees to use organizers and lists
  • Lack of concentration: reduce workplace distractions, increase natural lighting
  • Coping with stress: allow time off for counselling, assign a supervisor, manager, or mentor to answer employee questions. Encourage employees to walk away from frustrations and confrontations, allow frequent breaks
  • Working effectively with a supervisor: provide positive reinforcement, give clear expectations
  • Dealing with emotions: refer employees to your Employee Assistance Program (EAP), a safe haven to speak freely about PTSD
  • Panic attacks: allow employee to take a break and go somewhere s/he feels comfortable to use relaxation techniques or contact a support person. Identify and remove triggers (noises, smells, or visuals).

In what ways do you accommodate your employees? How are you raising awareness in the workplace of PTSD and resources that are available?


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Awareness of EAPs Can Significantly Increase Their Value

0 - blogIn the challenging busyness of our everyday life, workplace stresses and deadlines, caregiving to children and elderly parents, finances, and relationships, all can become an overwhelming experience. Remaining positive and still being able to offer your guidance at home to our loved ones and to our employees at work, can become a burden. Knowing where to turn for help is a large part of accessing help, but when our emotions are maxed, we don’t always remember what resources are available, their value to us, and how easily they can be accessed. This is exactly why EAP services are so essential for the wellbeing of your business and your employees to make it run effectively, and it underscores the importance of “spreading the word”.

As you may know, three of the biggest issues facing businesses today are employee retention, absenteeism, and loyalty. If your employees are struggling with personal issues and work issues, it only makes sense that they might be distracted from their work and, as a result, be less productive. It is often the case that these issues could sometimes be prevented, and utilizing an effective EAP can make your employees feel more supported, and give them the help and tools they need to improve their personal and professional lives to reduce these issues in the workplace.

Despite the fact that there are so many obvious benefits to having an EAP in your workplace, why are these programs still so underused or not even used at all? About 80% of Canadian employers have an EAP, but only 8% of employees actually make use of these services!

Why might your employees choose not to use your EAP, even though many of them would benefit from their services? I can think of four common responses:

  1. Our employees don’t think an EAP is entirely confidential.
  2. They don’t see EAPs as a preventative resource, just one to access in need.
  3. Our employees think their EAP only offers psychological support.
  4. They don’t even know it exists!

How can you encourage a change in your employees’ perceptions of using an EAP? How do you make your employees aware of what exactly an EAP is, and the benefits of using the services they provide? Well, I’d start by addressing the above four misconceptions:

  1. Access to your EAP is 100% confidential. As an organization, it’s important to communicate this to employees. An EAP cannot confirm nor deny an employee’s participation in the EAP without written consent from the employee(within legal limitations).
  2. Break the stigma in your organization! Reassure employees that no one is immune to experiencing personal issues on and off the job, and that seeking assistance before issues become unmanageable is beneficial to them personally and professionally.
  3. Reiterate to your employees that their EAP is so much more than counselling – it also provides coaching, legal, financial, nutritional services, and management support at no cost to them. .
  4. Make your EAP provider’s phone number available, and let your employees know that all they need to do is make the call 24/7.
    1. Ensure employees are aware of the full range of services available to them, using any and all communication channels. There is a direct correlation between the promotion of your EAP and the utilization of your EAP. Make EAP education a part of your employee onboarding and training process. Don’t let employee wellness and productivity suffer when help is readily available.

Education and communication are the best ways to encourage employee use of your EAP and overcome any stigma attached to it. As your employees start to understand that your EAP is a completely confidential service to help them deal with life’s challenges before they become too much to handle, awareness and acceptance will increase, and trust and comfort will be engendered. The use of your EAP will rise, in turn increasing employee wellness and productivity.

Are employees in your organization encouraged to reach out for help, even before issues become difficult to manage? What tools does your organization have in place that can be used to communicate EAP benefits? What other ways of communicating the EAP to employees can you suggest for an organization?