Workplace trauma not always obvious
Some workplaces are obviously more exposed to the risk of trauma than others.
Emergency service workers at hospitals, ambulances, fire and police encounter trauma everyday through accidents and deliberate acts. Those workers see things and cope with circumstances most people will never encounter.
Trauma can occur in other less obvious places like a factory or an office.
Ellen Auten of the Human Resources Center of Edgar and Clark Counties led a Feb. 28 program about workplace trauma. The session was part of HRC’s lunch and learn series to raise community awareness about the problems trauma create for society.
Auten defined trauma as, “Something that is unplanned, wounds profoundly and has a lasting impact.”
She added while most people associate violence with trauma there is also a psychological component that can accompany something like an unexpected job loss or the death of a co-worker.
Workplace stress is another big contributor to trauma.
“One million people miss work each day because of stress,” said Auten.
She offered statistics explaining why Americans feel stressed by work: 62 percent of workers reported increased responsibility placed on them within the last six months, not necessarily accompanied by a promotion or a raise, that prevented them from using all of their vacation time; 80 percent say employers have unrealistic expectations for job performance; 69 percent of people find work is a significant source of stress; and 70 percent report working overtime just to keep pace with job requirements without receiving overtime pay.
Auten said employers and managers must pay attention to these numbers because it hurts profitability. Stressful environments, she said, create a reduced ability to learn, the ability to think in order to manage change and hurts the ability to relate to others.
She cited a study estimating stress results in a productivity loss of $1,685 per year per employee.
“Lots of things can cause stress in the workplace,” Auten said and listed such factors as little control by employees, lots of demands by management, complaining by other workers, inconsistencies in the process, too many distractions, being talked down to by management and lack of support from supervisors.
She likened the situation to what people experience with an abusive domestic situation where all of the power rests in one partner and the victim sees no way out.
“An employee may think, ‘how can I survive without this job. I’m stuck here. There is nowhere else to go,’” said Auten.
A stressful work situation can aggravate what is happening in a person’s private life and that can range from financial problems, a child engaged in substance abuse, domestic abuse, ill parents and a host of other issues.
“We have to assume everybody we come into contact with has experienced trauma in their background,” said Auten.
Suggestions she offered to managers are to avoid shaming employees in front of others by commenting the person’s ideas are stupid or they are too slow. She said concerns about performance are best handled in a private conversation and done early before frustration with a problem builds up.
Respect, consistent treatment of all employees and listening to what everyone has to say contribute to a happier work force, according to Auten.
For employers and managers who may not buy into the sensitivity approach, the results can be costly.
“Every time a business replaces a salaried employee it costs the business between six and nine months of the person’s salary to look for and hire a replacement,” said Auten, adding training costs and the negative cultural impact with other employees are other costs to weigh. “We have to hold employees accountable, but we also need to work with employees to correct what we don’t like.”