Talk It Out

The Workplace and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a trauma and stressor-related psychiatric disorder that occurs in individuals who have experienced or witnessed life-threatening events, sexual violence or serious injury. People who experience or witness events like a natural disaster, terrorist attack, a serious accident, war, or a violent personal assault can develop post-traumatic stress disorder. Apart from witnessing or directly experiencing the event, a person can develop post-traumatic stress disorder if they learn that a family member or close friend has experienced a traumatic event with their actual or threatened death being either accidental or violent.  Moreover, if an individual is exposed to a first-hand repetition of a traumatic event, not including through the media, they can develop post-traumatic stress disorder.

The symptoms of PTSD include intrusive thoughts, vivid memories or flashbacks of the traumatic event; difficulty concentrating or remembering information; hyper arousal so that the individual feels a constant sense of danger and thus is jumpy and suffers from insomnia; over emotional or emotional numbness; and lastly avoidance of activities, people or situations that remind the individual of the traumatic event. Post-traumatic stress disorder may contribute to other disorders like substance abuse, memory problems, depression, and other ailments that affect mental and physical health. PTSD is statistically an issue that affects more women than men. PTSD can be debilitating, and seriously impair an individual’s ability to function normally, making it difficult to handle in a workplace environment.

How can an employer accommodate an employee with Posttraumatic stress disorder?

Because we are all different, people experience trauma differently and so what works when accommodating an employee in one way, may not work when accommodating another employee experiencing PTSD. An employee’s needs for accommodating will vary depending on their limitations. Moreover, many people suffering with PTSD do not ask for help, and will not need to be accommodated at all. However, for those who experience limitations in the following areas, an employer can accommodate them using the methods listed.

  1. Problems with memory

If an employee is experiencing problems remembering things, an employer should provide written instructions to the employee as well as written minutes of each meeting.

  1. Issues coping with stress

When an employee isn’t coping with the stress levels associated with their job, their employer should allow them time off from work so that they can receive the necessary counselling. Another way to make stress easier for the employee is for the employer to assign a manager, mentor or supervisor to answer the employee’s questions.

  1. Struggling to cope with emotions

An employee struggling to cope with their emotions should be given frequent breaks and be given adequate support from the organisations Human Resources department.

  1. Suffering from panic attacks

Triggers for panic attacks for the employee should be removed and the employee should be given the opportunity to go somewhere where they feel safe, so that they can contact a support person or practice relaxation techniques.

  1. Struggling to concentrate

To help an employee who struggles to concentrate due to PTSD, distractions within the workplace should be reduced and natural lighting should be increased where possible.

  1. Having difficulty working with a supervisor

In such cases, the employee should be given a clear description of what is expected of them and what the consequences will be if they do not meet the expectations. Furthermore, the employee should be given ample positive reinforcement for their work.

Taking the forgoing into account when helping an individual through post-traumatic stress disorder in the workplace, should help ease the employee back into working life.

Contact Louw Alberts for post-traumatic stress disorder counselling.

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