Regardless of your field or your level of expertise, you will most probably meet someone in the workplace who is grieving or traumatized. You may know someone who has experienced vicarious trauma, traumatic events, or who is experiencing professional grief. For that matter, you may have been impacted by grief or trauma while doing your job.
If you are a leader, you may be seeking resources and strategies for organizational resilience to increase productivity and retention in your workplace. You realize that during the pandemic, volunteers and staff are experiencing burnout, compassion fatigue, secondary traumatic stress, vicarious trauma, and professional grief. As you learn about being trauma informed, it is essential that for organizational resilience to take place, you are also vicarious trauma informed and grief informed.
Build Organizational Resilience by Being Trauma Informed, Vicarious Trauma Informed, and Grief Informed
Trauma Informed Organization
The first pillar of organizational health and resilience is trauma informed care, a framework that supports an understanding of the impact of trauma on the survivor and how to provide support while avoiding re-traumatization. To mitigate the impact of trauma, strategies that are well supported and found to be effective can include:
- Service provider training in psychological trauma, signs, and symptoms, and safety
- Trauma specific practices: screening, assessment, and therapeutic interventions
- Staff training on the stress response, strengthening personal resilience, and cultural and gender sensitivity
A trauma-informed approach requires an understanding that those who are exposed to trauma material and traumatic experiences can experience vicarious trauma.
Vicarious Trauma Informed Organization
The second pillar of organizational resilience is vicarious trauma informed care, a framework that supports an understanding of the impact of being exposed to trauma material. Vicarious trauma-informed care is an approach to the delivery of mental health care to professionals or volunteers to manage trauma exposure. Direct or indirect exposure to traumatic material, vicarious traumatic stress, and perceived lack of organizational support affect staff’s well-being (Ham, et. al., 2021). Moreover, vicarious traumatization has a long lasting impact on the employee or volunteer’s world view due.
Therefore, leaders need to create an organizational culture of understanding of the impact of vicarious trauma, provide peer support networks to employees, and demonstrate ways to show employees that they are valued. This can be accomplished by respectful communication with a focus on the importance of staff health, strengthening employee protective factors, wellness, and wellbeing.
A vicarious trauma-informed organization recognizes mindfulness interventions (generic wellness) that include training on self-care, healthy diet, meditation, yoga, and body movement. Recommendations can be made about recreational programs, those activities that can be done after work, indoors or outdoors, alone or with others (e.g., music, art, sports). Suggestions can include alternative medicine (integrative/complimentary) therapy: acupuncture, homeopathy, naturopathy, and traditional Chinese medicine (e.g., acupuncture).
Four Vicarious trauma informed interventions that show promising findings are:
- Trauma-specific supervision: Supervisors review signs, symptoms, and risks for STS and VT, assists in emotional re-regulation related to indirect trauma exposure, identifies cognitive distortions and changes in world view, builds resilience, and monitors progress.
- Vicarious trauma policies: Write supportive policies into employee handbooks that enhance high performance work practices and a shared vision to create a better working environment for those who are vicariously traumatized
- Helpful resources for vicarious trauma organizations: Reduce treatment barriers, human resources, EAPs, mental health professionals, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and online support.
- Psychoeducation: General wellness psychoeducation can include professional stress management seminars and work-life balance initiatives. Occupational skill development psychoeducation can include professional skills trainings on violence, trauma, abuse, neglect, and grief.
Grief Informed Organization
The third pillar of organizational resilience is grief informed care, a framework that supports an understanding of the art of coping with grief. Palette of Grief® is defined as emotional, physical, cognitive, behavioral, and spiritual reactions due to a traumatic loss. Through the art of understanding of ambiguous loss, disenfranchised grief, Prolonged Grief Disorder, and mourning, we learn ways to manage loss. Strategies to mitigate the impact of personal or professional grief, and that are well supported and found to be effective include understanding:
- Palette of Grief® symptoms
- Prolonged Grief Disorder
- Disenfranchised grief after a suicide, homicide, drug misuse death, COVID
- Ambiguous Loss
- Complicated grief in the workplace
- Strategies recommended by contemporary mourning theories
If trauma is a major global health problem, so is vicarious trauma and grief. Therefore, it is important to invest in vicarious trauma informed and grief informed training and research, and to develop an effective strategy of personal or professional grief management. With adequate training to manage vicarious trauma and grief in the workplace, organizations can promote and create sustainable wellness at work.
Barbara is a leading authority and best-selling author on managing burnout, secondary traumatic stress, compassion fatigue, and vicarious trauma. As a nationally recognized keynote speaker, she motivates audiences to build their resilience and create work-life balance. Her programs help leaders and teams manage workplace chronic stressors and get over burnout at work.
Barbara's newest book, "But I Didn't Say Goodbye: Helping Families After a Suicide", is available now on Amazon - https://amzn.to/2FwS6JI
• Three weeks prior to giving birth to triplets, her father died by suicide. Her story was featured in the Emmy award winning documentary, Fatal Mistakes, Families Shattered by Suicide narrated by Mariette Hartley. Many employees are grieving personal loss. She offers programs for leaders on lost productivity and performance while managing grief at work.
• As a sought-after keynote speaker who has presented to over 500 groups since 1991, including corporations, state and national associations and non-profit organizations, Barbara offers work-life balance strategies for leaders to implement right away. With clarity and humor, her speaking engagements are designed to give audiences powerful and practical strategies of work-life balance, wellbeing, and self-care that can be implemented immediately.
• Barbara is a Board-Certified Expert in Traumatic Stress and Diplomate with the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress. She received a Bachelor of Science in psychology and a Master of Arts degree in community health, with a concentration in thanatology, both from Brooklyn College.