Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria

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

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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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