Trauma Goes Beyond Headlines

Developing trauma-informed workplaces

Americans have grown all too accustomed to violence. Just in the last couple of weeks, we witnessed mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, where 10 Black people were targeted for their Blackness and murdered in their community’s only supermarket; in Laguna Woods, California, where Taiwanese Americans were targeted at a church; and Uvalde, Texas, where 19 children and two adults were killed in an elementary school that is 90% Hispanic.

We collectively feel shock, rage, grief, and hopelessness at extreme displays of violence —racially motivated or otherwise — and the failure of systems that are supposed to keep us safe.

It’s so horrific—and yet almost commonplace—that we don’t know what to do with our feelings. Perhaps our grief and rage fall to the background while we navigate everyday living. We show up to work meetings, drive the kids to sports practice, organize our parents’ medications, and manage disgruntled customers, but all the while we carry the heaviness of loss and know that it is only a matter of time before the next brutal attack.

In the workplace, news of mass shootings and other acts of racial violence are particularly traumatizing for workers of color, who see themselves in the latest victims or have personally experienced racial violence in the past.

We know that people don’t drop their feelings and experiences at the front door when they come to their jobs, so this is very much a workforce issue.

Companies can help ease this pain by creating trauma-informed workplaces. Where do we even start? Strive for the four Rs:

  • Realize the widespread impact of trauma and understand potential paths for recovery
  • Recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved with the system
  • Respond by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices
  • Actively resist re-traumatization

This is sensitive territory, and it is a new area for most employers and workforce development professionals, but it is so important, and the right thing to do.

If you need the business case, there is a strong one: Stress zaps employees’ energy and concentration, reduces their capacity to engage with colleagues and work effectively, drains productivity, and diminishes creativity and optimism.

My hometown started the Chicago Resiliency Network through the Corporate Coalition of Chicago to support trauma-informed workplace cultures. This cohort-based program, started before the pandemic, brings employers together to learn about the brain science of trauma and how they need to change as corporations to support the well-being of their workers.

Last year we created an introductory guide, A Trauma-Informed Approach to Workforce, to help more employers and workforce development organizations learn about how they can advance trauma-informed approaches in the workplace.

Our country has a long way to go to live up to its promise and ideals and become a place where we are all free to live safe, secure, and prosperous lives. As we continue this work, it is our duty to better understand trauma and how we can ease the burden of trauma for those around us.

Amanda Cage

-- President and CEO, National Fund for Workforce Solutions