Warning: This article includes mention of a variety of traumatic situations like war, verbal abuse, and assault. Please call 911 in case of an emergency, and reach out to your counselor, a hotline like SAMHSA, or dial 988 for mental health support.
What is PTSD in the workplace?
PTSD is the acronym for the mental health disorder, “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder”. According to the NHS, “Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder caused by very stressful, frightening or distressing events. Someone with PTSD often relives the traumatic event through nightmares and flashbacks, and may experience feelings of isolation, irritability, and guilt.”
This is most commonly experienced by people who have served in the military or by people who have experienced a traumatic event in their personal life. However, people can also experience PTSD from their workplace as well.
According to psychotherapist, Joyce Marter, in the book, The Financial Mindset Fix: A Mental Fitness Program for an Abundant Life, “workplace PTSD is characterized by the different emotional, cognitive, and physical challenges people experience when they have difficulty coping with negative, abusive, or traumatic aspects of their jobs.” This can include a variety of different factors in the workplace, such as unfair requirements from supervisors, challenging co-workers, lack of respect for boundaries, sexual harassment, or even no job flexibility.
What does PTSD look like in the workplace?
PTSD generally arises when something triggers someone to a time where they have experienced trauma. At the workplace, simply overworking the employee, not giving the employee any recognition for their work, and treating employees poorly consistently can be traumatizing. This can mean having the employee feel overwhelmingly burnt out from their work environment. These feelings can lead to fear around work and make them afraid to speak up when necessary.
PTSD at the workplace can even be from interactions with someone who is a reminder of a past traumatic experience. A coworker or supervisor may say things or have an attitude that is a reminder of someone who was once verbally abusive. There may even be situations where an event that has similar association to a past traumatic event occurs. Once a person gets triggered in a situation, it will cause the individual to feel the symptoms of PTSD.
For example, I experienced PTSD a few years ago. As I was heading home from a job interview on a Tuesday morning, I was physically assaulted by a homeless man. The man slapped me when I swiped my MetroCard at the turnstile. The slap was so hard that I blacked out for a second and found myself on the ground. This resulted in the entire right side of my face being swollen and left a slash on my nose. I quickly got up and ran away because once I was aware of my surroundings, the man was still there standing over me, and I was afraid he’d hurt me further. I reported it to the police and identified the man, and they were not able to take the case further because he was homeless.
After this, I got the job and hated commuting to and from work every day. I was fearful I would see that man again. If a person got too close to me on the subway or looked suspicious, I would instantly start to panic. I even started walking around with pepper spray. This made my job extremely difficult and unenjoyable because one of the responsibilities of my job was to travel throughout different parts of the city via the subway.
How do you deal with PTSD in the workplace?
The first step to dealing with PTSD at the workplace is to accept that you have PTSD. Talk to your higher management or manager and let them know that you are struggling with this. This may be a difficult conversation to have. However, if you do not communicate this to them, they may not know that you are dealing with this. Talking about it opens the door to them being better able to accommodate for you.
When feeling triggered at work, try using different coping strategies such as deep breathing or meditation to help to calm you down.
Another thing that you can try is to discover what calms you down or is relaxing to you. This can include listening to a specific song, writing in a journal, or even looking at photos that bring you joy. If you find that you are still experiencing difficulty, then seeking out mental health options may be necessary.
How can employers support employees dealing with PTSD?
Here are seven ways company leaders can help employees that may be suffering from PTSD.
1. Showing empathy and allowing employees to feel comfortable
This allows employees to know that if they need anything or need to share anything that is going on in their personal life, they can do so. Employees that know they work in a judgment-free space will feel safer at work
2. Checking in with employees
When managers check-in, it gives employees the reinforcement that they are cared about and can make their day better by knowing someone cares about how they are doing.
3. Creating bonds with employees
This can include having company lunches or even setting up events for employees outside of the workplace. This allows the employer the opportunity to get to know their employees on a different level as well as some insight on who they are as a person.
4. Providing employees with effective positive and negative feedback
When doing this, you want to start off with positive feedback by letting employees know the things they are doing well at their job followed by the negative feedback with the things that they need to work on. This gives the employees reassurance that they are good at their job, there are just some things that need to be worked on.
5. Respect employees’ time
Employees are entitled to sick days and PTO days. If an employee has requested that time off, allow them to have it without disturbing their time with work. Also, if it is outside of work hours, do not reach out with work unless there is an emergency.
6. Provide mental health training for employees
This allows employees to know that you care about their mental health as well as provides your employees with some useful resources.
For more information on mental health training, workshops, and lunch and learns, check out this article.
7. Provide resources for employees to have access to mental health
This gives your employees access to tools that can support their mental health. For some people, mental health care may be too costly, and this can be a great help for that. This can include providing specific insurance plans or partnering with a mental health benefits provider such as Nivati.
For more information on overcoming PTSD, check out this article.
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