For those working in human services, compassion fatigue and the associated symptoms of burnout occur all too often. Caring for clients going through trauma or who have difficult living conditions can have adverse effects on staff’s mental health. In order to take care of your staff, it’s important to adopt a trauma-informed care approach within your own organization. By creating a trauma-informed workplace, you make it easier for staff to get the mental healthcare they need, while creating a better culture, reducing turnover, and more.
What is trauma?
Trauma is the emotional and physical response to experiencing or witnessing an event that is dangerous, frightening, or life-threatening.
The impact of trauma can make itself known in several ways. It is important that providers understand that the trauma-inducing event is not nearly as important as what the trauma means to the person who experienced it. Additionally, trauma can affect different groups or communities in extremely different ways.
We should, thus, take a multi-faceted approach to understanding trauma. The following characteristics provide a good starting point for understanding what exactly trauma looks like:
- Trauma experiences often overwhelm a person’s coping resources.
- Trauma often leads the person to find a way of coping that works in the short term but causes serious harm in the long run.
- Trauma is always defined by the individual.
By coming to a better understanding of what trauma is, your organization can adopt better practices to recognize trauma, burnout, and compassion fatigue among your staff.
How to become a trauma-informed workplace
Though recognizing the need for trauma-informed care in clients is what you are trained to do, recognizing the need for it in your own organization can prove difficult. When it becomes clear that staff within your organization do require trauma-informed care, there are several steps you should take.
Buy-in from leadership
The first step to becoming a trauma-informed workplace is to gain buy-in from leadership and the board. In order to do this, it might be helpful to present information on trauma-informed care and secondary traumatic stress to management. You may want to frame the conversation around the concept that self-care is non-negotiable in a trauma-informed organization, and leadership needs to “walk the walk” for staff to embrace self-care. Having honest conversations with management, providing resources, or encouraging the use of a staff wellness screening tool are other considerations.
One way to keep leadership interested is to provide ongoing data about the benefit trauma-informed care is having in the organization (both human benefit and fiscal benefit if possible). It can be helpful to explain that there is a huge cost associated with not taking care of staff (high turnover is extremely expensive, for example) and trauma-informed care and burnout are directly connected to staff productivity and getting the job done.
Staff resources and training
After you’ve successfully gained the buy-in of leadership, it’s time to begin implementing your trauma-informed workplace program. This can take several forms, but it’s important to emphasize training and education. Provide staff members with training to recognize the signs of burnout before they become too severe and actively empower them to advocate for their own mental health.
Here are some ideas for preventing burnout:
- Train all staff in vicarious trauma in new hire orientation.
- Offer other training regarding self-care.
- Offer trauma-informed, reflective supervision.
- Encourage supervisors to check in on their supervisees and explore how the person is doing, outside of the responsibilities they have.
- Offer EAP benefits that provide free short-term counseling for staff.
- Offer discounts for health clubs.
- Teach mindfulness to staff.
- Create a safe environment where staff can talk about their fears and worries without fear of repercussion.
Creating a trauma-informed environment is an overriding approach to preventing burnout. When staff feel that they are heard, understood, valued, and appreciated by co-workers and management alike then they can begin to heal.
Collect feedback and improve on your trauma-informed approach
Finally, collect feedback on your trauma-informed workplace program. This way, you can ensure that the steps you and your organization have taken to implement a trauma-informed care approach to staff members’ mental health actually works. A staff survey that specifically asks questions about staff wellness and needs may prove helpful. This type of initiative usually requires the work of an implementation team that focuses on communicating for buy-in, creating a sense of urgency, planning for the future, and other implementation steps.
By collecting feedback, you’ll gather data that can allow you to iterate on the program and make improvements. In this way, your organization can work to consistently create the best environment possible for staff members. By doing so, you’ll decrease staff stress and unhappiness, improve the culture of your organization, and reduce turnover associated with burnout and compassion fatigue.
5 Key Elements to Trauma-Informed Care
The experience of trauma has widespread impact on the lives of those we serve. Trauma can lead to or exacerbate mental illness, substance use, and physical health conditions. In a truly integrated, whole health system of care, effective treatment must involve addressing the impact of trauma. Download this white paper to learn: what trauma is and other conditions it can lead to; what trauma-informed care is and why it’s important; how to integrate trauma-informed care into your practice.Learn More →