Top 6 Areas for a Trauma-Informed Workplace

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 6 in 10 men and 5 in 10 women experience trauma at some point in their lifetime and 8 million people in the United States struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder each year. Given these statistics, the probability that there are employees in any given organization who have experienced trauma is highly likely. In my experience as a survivor of 20 years of human trafficking who both has trauma and works with other survivors with trauma, trauma-informed practices lead to a decrease in employee turnover and unplanned time off, and an increase in productivity.

As someone who has struggled to maintain a job because of my trauma, I know how hard it is for survivors of trauma to become and remain functioning members of society. Part of the healing process is entering the workforce. In my unique position, I have been able to observe the struggles of these survivors first hand and have learned how to best support them through personal and professional experience. Trauma-informed workplace practices are the key to professional success that does not require them to disclose their trauma in order to receive support.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response suggest these 6 guiding principles of a trauma-informed approach: safety, trustworthiness and transparency, peer support, collaboration and mutuality, empowerment and choice, and cultural, historical, and gender issues.

Safe House Project works to incorporate each of these principles with both employees of the organization as well as the survivors we serve. While some of the following examples are industry-specific, they are a model of how trauma-informed practices can be incorporated into the workplace.

  1. Safety. Trauma survivors must feel safe in their day to day work lives, both physically and psychologically. Safe House Project does this by granting employees the freedom to choose names printed on publications and social media posts, whether or not photos of them are used on anything affiliated with the organization, and to whom their trauma history is disclosed.

  2. Trustworthiness and Transparency. It is important that survivors are informed of decisions that may affect them and are briefed, when possible, on why these decisions are being made. Safe House Project holds weekly team meetings to keep all staff members informed on what is happening within the organization. Team members are briefed on new initiatives being launched, new partnerships formed with other organizations, and new staff and volunteers.

  3. Peer Support. Peer support is an avenue in which to foster safety, collaboration, and empowerment. Safe House Project encourages departments to intersect and collaborate, tailoring each project team to the team member’s unique strengths. When team members collaborate with those who compliment their strengths, productivity increases and leaves team members feeling successful.

  4. Collaboration and Mutuality. Every employee has a role in ensuring a trauma-informed work environment. Safe House Project has regular discussions about the importance of being trauma-informed and what that looks like. This allows for team members to be educated and collaborate to make organizational trauma-informed practices regular operating procedure.

  5. Empowerment and Choice. This principle allows for organizations to focus on the strengths of its employees instead of responding to perceived deficits. Safe House Project, when possible, tailors positions to the strengths of its team members to set them up for success, then places them in teams or working on projects that challenge them and allow them to grow. This allows for successful, well-rounded professionals that are confident in their abilities.

  6. Cultural, Historical, and Gender Issues. Acknowledging these issues, biases, and stereotypes is the first step in creating a safe working environment for minorities and those with historical trauma. Safe House Project is acutely aware of the importance of this principle in a trauma-informed approach, as a majority of sex trafficking victims are women, a large percentage of which are women of color. Safe House Project works to combat this by amplifying the voices of minority groups and listening to their lived experiences as opposed to speaking for them.

A trauma-informed approach is imperative to the success of trauma survivors in the workplace. Working to incorporate these 6 principles is the beginning of not only setting up trauma survivors for success, but also setting up your business for success. Trauma-informed care must be incorporated at an organizational level in order to be successful and we, as executives, have a corporate responsibility to our employees to see that happen.