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Jeremy Pollack, Ph.D. is a conflict resolution specialist and founder of Pollack Peacebuilding and Peaceful Leaders Academy. He is also Chairman of the Board of the Peaceful Leadership Institute, the President of the Florida chapter of the Association for Conflict Resolution, and Chair of the Workplace Peace Committee of Division 48 (Division of Peace Psychology) of the American Psychological Association. His credentials include being a Certified Organizational Development Coach (CODC™), a Certified Clinical Trauma Specialist-Individual (CCTS-I™), and an Associate Certified Coach (ACC) under the International Coaching Federation. Jeremy is an Adjunct Professor of Psychology at Arizona College, and still actively participates in coaching and training sessions offered by his companies. He lives in Miami with his wife, Jenny, and their labradoodle, Denver.

The past two years have been the most turbulent for organizations and humanity in general. We have faced racial violence, environmental disasters, political upheavals, domestic violence cases, sexual violence, and the COVID-19 pandemic in succession. The result has been skyrocketing levels of depression and anxiety. Given that organizations cannot separate their employees from traumatic events, it is their responsibility to find ways to support them through repeated traumatic experiences. As a result, most organizations have become trauma-informed.

Trauma-informed organizations are defined by the significant awareness of the pervasive nature of trauma and how it affects the mental health of employees. This type of organization also operates with an understanding of the effects of traumatic events on the well-being of employees and works to mitigate these effects.

The existence of traumatic events beyond the control of employees means that organizations need leaders who can create an empathetic workplace. Such leadership capabilities do not come naturally.

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This is why we at Peaceful Leaders Academy offer training and coaching for workplace leaders and team members in the Peaceful Leadership model, created by experts in organizational psychology and leadership development. What sets our Peaceful Leaders Academy apart is how our online leadership academy is designed to improve relationships among leaders and employees, thereby enhancing overall workplace peace.

Understanding Trauma-Informed Approaches

This type of approach offers services that do not retraumatize or blame mental health victims even as they try to manage their traumatic experiences. Such a workplace focuses on five key principles as outlined below.

The Safety Principle

It is only natural that an individual feels unsafe after going through a traumatic experience. Trauma essentially threatens our physical and psychological safety. While implementing its approach in the workplace, organizations must prioritize safety as a key principle, acknowledging the importance of communication in leadership. If employees do not feel safe, they will become vulnerable and are less likely to be open to engagements with team members.

The safety principle reduces the impact of traumatic experiences enough to help employees focus on their productivity and general well-being. A safe environment for employees means adequate lighting and safety rails in designated locations. It is also psychological because it includes eliminating all forms of disrespectful behavior.

The Awareness Principle

Approaches used by organizations should promote awareness, which essentially means that leaders and employees are aware that trauma is pervasive and that it affects real people. However, promoting awareness about trauma does not mean everyone is becoming a trauma specialist. It is about teaching everyone in the organization to stay prepared, understanding that someone may have been impacted by trauma, and ensuring their actions do not cause further harm. This awareness also includes understanding what leadership communication is.

These employees are acutely aware of the role they can play in promoting collective and individual well-being. Some of the ways organizations can promote trauma awareness include the consideration of policies and the continued practice of the awareness principle over the long term. Organizations can have champions of such principles.

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The Principle of Attitude

Even as organizations strive to provide these policies, these rules will not be effective without a shift in attitudes. An attitude shift means changing how employees engage with each other. It also means putting individual awareness of trauma into action. Employees with a shift in attitude have a mindset of curious empathy in their interactions, demonstrated in how they respond to others, organizations, and communities. This shift in attitude means a recession of biases, leaving healthy responses to trauma in their place.

The Principle of Choice

Traumatic events do not give their victims choices and control. As a result, an important part of providing supportive services is to offer people choice and control, as helplessness is often associated with these experiences. Policies should aim to create a workplace where employees have a sense of power and can influence how they do their work.

The goal of a supportive organization is to provide employees with meaningful opportunities for choice. Leadership and staff should work collaboratively to respect the choices and voices of everyone rather than focusing solely on what’s best for a few. Engaging in conversations that respect the voices of all employees creates workplaces that promote the mental health and well-being of everyone involved.

The Principle of Strength

Traumatic occurrences do not affect people the same way because every one of us has inherent strengths that help us survive. When an individual survives a traumatic event, it is important to highlight their strengths. Telling these people about their strengths emphasizes and builds up their inherent resilience.

It is important to show them that they survived their trauma in the first place because they were strong. It might be hard to know a person’s individual strengths, but we can discover important details by speaking and engaging closely with others respectfully. Most workplaces emphasize collaboration, and knowing the strengths of every individual can enhance productivity and build a strong organizational culture.

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The Role of Leadership

There has been a growing recognition that trauma impacts individuals in all areas of their lives, including the workplace. Trauma experienced as a child or as an adult has significant impacts on mental health, well-being, and the ability to remain productive at work. This has highlighted the need for empathetic and understanding leadership.

Trauma-informed leadership is a framework needed in organizations that prioritize employee well-being. This framework recognizes that individuals affected by trauma need to exist in a safe environment that promotes their healing and resilience. But what is the role of leadership in implementing supportive practices?

Here are six things that define the pivotal role of leadership in implementing practices that support and accommodate the needs of all employees.

Empathetic Leadership for a Supportive Workplace

Leaders with distinct qualities enable them to create a supportive workplace. Through their interpersonal interactions, these leaders exude authentic warmth. Their body language reflects that of a leader who is open, approachable, and caring, making it possible for everyone in the organization to operate through a lens of empathy and understanding.

Such leaders lead by example, greeting employees with smiles, making eye contact, and treating everyone equally. They can effectively implement supportive practices because they remain calm, even when other employees are agitated. Their professional behavior helps them avoid knee-jerk reactions, which is critical in ensuring the well-being of their staff.

Finally, empathetic leadership involves giving employees choices and using positive methods to motivate them, as opposed to fear-based tactics. These leaders ensure that organizational policies and practices promote a sense of safety and well-being for all employees.

Trauma-Informed Leaders Prioritize Empowerment, Voice, and Choice

Trauma-informed leaders do not believe there is one way to work or that their way of doing things is the only way. These leaders accept different ways of doing the work, acknowledging and validating the ideas that other people have. These leaders also hold staff accountable for reduced productivity, but their criticism is constructive and compassionate. Such leaders consider staff ideas, policies, and practices and provide enough resources to ensure they succeed. Finally, they actively listen to their staff and promote feedback loops that ensure they do not miss any signs of an employee struggling after trauma.

Trauma-Informed Leaders Reduce Workplace Conflicts

Employees who have been through challenging experiences are often vulnerable, and workplace conflicts can act as major triggers for them. Leaders who understand the impact of these experiences on employees will adopt a leadership style that promotes harmony rather than disagreements. This approach to leadership reduces the potential for disputes, making the workplace a safer environment for employees to recover from challenging experiences.

Normalized Trauma Experiences

The trauma-informed approach normalizes trauma experiences. Implementing trauma-informed practices means having leaders who lead with compassion and empathy. It is the role of leaders to make employees feel seen and heard. Such trauma-informed practices encourage employees to accept support self-care, make trauma experiences a shared responsibility and not a personal experience, and take part in conversations necessary to keep the workforce engaged.

Commitment to Psychological Safety

Trauma-informed care sees psychological safety protocols as an important consideration for traumatized employees. Traumatic experiences require employees to exist in an organizational culture that makes them feel comfortable to bring up their needs and personal traumas in normal conversations without fear.

Trauma-informed practices mean creating a workplace where conflict is not ignored, and people who have had traumatic experiences need to resolve conflicts in order for them to feel supported. Such support ensures that every employee exists in a place of psychological safety where they can approach problems with openness and curiosity instead of with shame and blame games.

Trauma-informed workplaces exist only with the express efforts of a trauma-informed practice, which also prioritizes self-care among employees, helping them identify their tipping points and taking breaks from work as much as possible.

Recognizes the Signs of Emotional Distress

Leaders who are aware of the signs of emotional distress play a crucial role in supporting their teams. It would be challenging to implement supportive practices without recognizing the indicators of distress. Leaders in any organization should be well-versed in identifying symptoms such as sadness, fear, and toxic stress to adopt an empathetic approach.

The concept of leadership that is sensitive to emotional well-being is relatively new. Many of today’s leaders undergo training on how to manage their emotions in the workplace, but developing skills to support emotionally distressed employees is an evolving area.

If you are a leader in an organization, consider contacting us at Peaceful Leaders Academy to take online courses. These courses are designed to empower leaders to create and sustain workplaces that are sensitive to the emotional needs of employees.

With Peaceful Leaders Academy’s online course, you will learn how to:

  • Give your employees constructive feedback without causing further harm.
  • Take the lead in complex conversations and encourage peer support.
  • Become the coach and mentor that employees need to navigate challenging times.
  • Adopt practices that contribute to a peaceful and productive organizational culture.
  • Engage in inclusive decision-making.
  • And much more.

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Checklist for Trauma-Informed Workplaces

There are different ways that individuals can experience trauma, including those with mental health conditions. These individuals have to continue living, and they will always form an integral part of an organization as human resources. It is okay for organizations to have less than comprehensive trauma-informed practices, but here’s a list of how you can determine if your list is comprehensive enough or if you need to add some aspects to your practices.

Trauma-informed principles should guide organizations in their practices, starting from the time there is an advertisement for a vacant position right through to when the employee becomes a part of the organization.

Stage 1: Pre-Employment

Human resource practices in an organization can be considered sensitive to employee well-being when:

  • Job descriptions accurately outline skills and attributes that define a supportive organization.
  • The job description includes the need for an individual to have knowledge or experience with supportive approaches.
  • Recruitment materials describe job duties in ways that promote principles of emotional and psychological safety.
  • Timelines for physical interviews and the application process are clearly communicated in advance.
  • Any changes in timelines for interviews are promptly communicated.
  • Interviewees are provided with a safe and respectful environment, ensuring the interview process itself is considerate and secure.
  • Applicants have opportunities to address physical and emotional safety concerns about the work environment.
  • The purpose of the interview is clearly communicated to the applicants.
  • Salaries and other employment benefits are negotiated with a focus on fairness and respect for the individual’s needs and preferences.

Stage 2: Onboarding and Orientation

The interview stage provides an organization the opportunity to select employees who will become an integral part of the organization. Still, there is a checklist that organizations can use to ensure that their practices adhere to the principles of trauma-informed services, including:

  • Clearly communicated expectations between the new employees and their leaders.
  • An onboarding process that details personal safety and company-wide safety measures and procedures that new employees should know about.
  • Informing new employees about supportive measures in place that are designed to help them with personal or workplace traumatic experiences.
  • An outline of self-care and work-life balance resources for new employees.
  • A procedure that organization leaders use to receive feedback about their performance, which is consistent and appropriate for a trauma-informed organization.
  • A work environment where new employees feel welcomed and included by existing employees.
  • Meaningful opportunities are given to new employees to promote their career growth.

Stage 3: Ongoing Employment

Supportive practices in an organization, including mental health support, are not one-off solutions but ongoing efforts that continue throughout an employee’s tenure. Here are a few aspects of a comprehensive checklist to ensure that these practices are designed for the long term:

  • Processes are designed to build and support a diverse and inclusive work environment.
  • Employees can voice their ideas and have a choice in deciding on the best work procedures.
  • The performance management system for behavior correction and motivation incorporates principles sensitive to employees’ emotional and psychological needs.
  • Employees can provide feedback to the organization without needing to remain anonymous.
  • All employees are aware of career opportunities and are given equal opportunities for promotion.
  • There is a prioritization of recognition and appreciation of organizational staff.
  • Mental health resources are available to address stress and well-being.
  • Structures are in place to minimize the chances of employees experiencing distressing situations.
  • Supportive approaches routinely assess safety and health risks.

Organizations need to have these supportive practices in place, particularly for an employee with a mental health condition, but it’s also crucial for individuals to evaluate a workplace before deciding to join it. Since it’s not easy to identify an organization with effective supportive practices, consider leadership training from Peaceful Leaders Academy for areas requiring more knowledge and insight into creating a supportive work environment.

Benefits of Trauma-Informed Workplace Training

There are endless benefits that an organization can enjoy by putting in place this kind of training. Some of these benefits include:

  • Promotes employee well-being.
  • Reduced stress levels, heightened sense of belonging, and enhanced mental health within the organization.
  • A significant shift in organizational culture.
  • A cultivated culture of empathy promotes creativity and innovation.
  • A positive impact on profitability and employee productivity.
  • A strong employer reputation.

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Transform Your Workplace with Peaceful Leaders Academy

Are you ready to make a significant difference in your workplace? At Peaceful Leaders Academy, we offer a unique opportunity to revolutionize how your organization handles mental health. Our expertly designed online courses provide essential insights and practical tools to create a safe workplace, ensuring a healthier, more productive environment for everyone.

Don’t miss the chance for a personalized consultation with our experts. Whether you’re a manager, a supervisor, or an employee, our tailored consultations focus on your specific workplace needs. This is an investment in your team’s physical health and your organization’s future.

Join us at Peaceful Leaders Academy and embark on a journey to create a safer, more supportive workplace free of mental illness. Explore our courses today and see the difference a trauma-informed approach can make. Your commitment to well-being starts here. Let’s make your workplace a haven of safety and productivity. Join us now!

Jeremy Pollack, Ph.D. is a conflict resolution specialist and founder of Pollack Peacebuilding and Peaceful Leaders Academy. He is also Chairman of the Board of the Peaceful Leadership Institute, the President of the Florida chapter of the Association for Conflict Resolution, and Chair of the Workplace Peace Committee of Division 48 (Division of Peace Psychology) of the American Psychological Association. His credentials include being a Certified Organizational Development Coach (CODC™), a Certified Clinical Trauma Specialist-Individual (CCTS-I™), and an Associate Certified Coach (ACC) under the International Coaching Federation. Jeremy is an Adjunct Professor of Psychology at Arizona College, and still actively participates in coaching and training sessions offered by his companies. He lives in Miami with his wife, Jenny, and their labradoodle, Denver.