Talk It Out

How to prevent workplace traumas

Trauma can be defined as the feeling of being psychologically overwhelmed. When a person goes through trauma, he or she feels powerless, and is unable to handle the situation mentally or emotionally. Trauma can also have a serious impact on one’s psychological and somatic health, and often results in depression, anxiety, paranoia, aggression and other negative outcomes. Workplace traumas occur specifically in or as a result of the workplace, and can emerge from either a once-off disastrous event (such as assault at work), or from an amalgamation of less spectacular events that disturb the psyche.

Examples of instances which can accumulate to result in workplace traumas are poor working conditions, worker dissatisfaction, any form of prejudice, abuse by bosses or colleagues, the fear of losing one’s job for whatever reason, overwhelmingly large workloads, and a lack of communication regarding work expectations.

What to do to prevent workplace trauma?

There are a number of things that can be done in order to prevent workplace traumas. Firstly, and most importantly, those in charge need to be taught about the extent to which trauma affects workers, and, thus, the entire business. Secondly, the company needs to create transparent and clear communication channels, especially when the business is undergoing processes of substantial change. Furthermore, supervisors need to be taught how to tackle uncomfortable situations and issues as opposed to avoiding talking about them.

Another important preventative measure is to ensure that good work is acknowledged, and that rewards are only given when there is sufficient reason – there needs to be cause and effect. Otherwise, workers become isolated from the results of their labour, and feel as if their labour is inconsequential. This can lead to dissatisfaction.

In addition, companies should strive to emphasise and promote self-efficacy, healthy self-esteem, a positive self-image and resilience training. This can decrease the chance of work-based traumas. Another factor that can militate against workplace traumas is to ensure that employees are fully aware of marketability and employment options. This means that employees will spend less time worrying about potentially losing jobs and not being able to find employment elsewhere.

Staff should be well trained in workplace trauma

Yet another protective measure is to train all staff in social and interpersonal skills, as opposed to demanding this solely from senior staff. This means that communication will be more effective throughout the company or business. Moreover, it is beneficial to establish an emotional or psychological support system in which employees can lean on each other during difficult times, and in which they can acknowledge that sometimes it is ‘okay’ for things not to be ‘okay. Another suggestion is to introduce change management training into the workspace, so that employees are able to cope with changes – which occur inevitably.

In addition, work-place traumas are much less likely to occur in companies that follow open book management (OBM) – where constant communication and access to information is prized. Companies that use an OBM approach provide workers with high levels of control and self-empowerment, access to financial and other information, and the ability to make significant changes in the office environment.

All of these factors can decrease the risk of workplace traumas. If your company is based in the Centurion/Pretoria area and needs assistance with trauma in the workplace, contact me, psychologist Louw Alberts.

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