In my work with trauma survivors and their children, one of the more interesting topics we address is how trauma affects their ability to function on the job and in the workplace. For most, it’s the first time they’ve ever considered the question.
“I don’t take my trauma to work. It doesn’t affect me there,” most say.
“I’m a different person at work than I am at home,” others contend.
In reality, however, most traumatized individuals do bring their trauma to work, even if it’s unwittingly. And it’s costing employers tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost productivity, organizational development costs, and hidden health care expenditures each year.
Studies show that unresolved trauma impacts every aspect of a person’s effectiveness in the workplace. Traumatized employees have difficulty analyzing business problems effectively, suggesting creative solutions, adapting to change, relating to others, and working in diverse teams. Plus, they’re more likely to have mental and physical health problems, including depression and substance abuse, which are two of the costliest health problems for employers today.
So what can you do to avoid or mitigate the problems that occur when employees bring trauma into the workplace? One way that leading-edge companies are improving workplace culture and realizing tangible ROI is by investing in trauma resolution programs and workshops. These companies have tried other approaches, such as team-building exercises (like ropes courses), brainstorming workshops, and diversity training, but those have not resulted in the productivity gains and cost reductions they expected. Why? Because those approaches only serve as a Band-Aid for the underlying problem.
When companies invest in innovative approaches such as trauma resolution, amazing transformations happen. Here’s one example: The members of a Fortune 500 company’s executive team were constantly at odds with one another, resulting in a completely ineffective organization. Two C-level executives threatened to resign because of the toxic culture. The CEO had heard about my workshops and brought me in to uncover the real issues behind the dysfunction. Today, the executive team is not only cohesive, but also closer and more in sync than anyone expected–simply because we dug under the surface and enabled a safe space for discussion and resolution.
If your organization is suffering from low productivity, high employee turnover, and/or out-of-control health care costs, you could put a temporary bandage over the problem. Or you could follow the lead of the most innovative companies today and invest in your employees’ emotional well-being–and reap the benefits for years to come. Which will YOU choose?