Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is commonly associated with those who have served in the armed forces, however, PTSD can apply to anyone who has experienced a traumatic event. It could be an accident they were involved in or witnessed, a natural disaster, or even abuse. The impact of PTSD is much wider than many people realise.
Our digitally connected lives mean that PTSD can also develop by watching distressing content on the news or social media.
Therefore, it is quite likely that it is a condition which could raise its head in the workplace. If that is the case, how as an employer do you cope with it and how do you start to recognise it? PTSD in an individual can impact on the overall workplace wellbeing so it needs to be considered.
Spotting PTSD isn’t simple as the chances are the individual won’t want to disclose the condition to their employer. With more conversations around mental health these days this unwillingness to disclose will hopefully improve.
From a work perspective, areas to look out for are:
- Trouble staying awake as insomnia is a common trait of PTSD
- Extreme reaction to situations which trigger memories – this is due to being mentally trapped in the worse moment of their life
- Poor relationships with co-workers due to distrust and not feeling safe
- Fear and anxiety as their body still produces cortisol and adrenaline which are the fight or flight hormones
- Lack of concentration and memory problems from avoiding anything related to the trauma or they can simply feel detached from what is going on around them
Any one of these symptoms on its own could be put down to a bad day, but if you suspect there is something more, it is worth deepening your understanding and making yourself openly available as a listening ear.
Supporting employees with PTSD
With a wide range of symptoms how do you even begin to support an employee in the throes of PTSD?
If they are struggling with insomnia and either turning up late or not at all, suggesting flexible working hours would help take the pressure off. It might also give them the chance to catch up on some much-needed sleep.
Trigger situations is a harder one to address. If you can get a dialogue going with your member of staff, they may disclose what their triggers are. If not, then try to notice when it occurs. Do they react when you arrange to meet in the tiny meeting room with no natural light? Do they react to certain news events? Is there a topic which always gets a reaction in a meeting? These could well be their triggers so avoiding these situations will help.
Poor relationships with other members of staff will also need to be addressed initially with a conversation and then a plan on how to deal with the situation. Can they walk away until they feel calm and then come back to the conversation? Other members of staff will need to understand that there is an issue being dealt with. Training for all staff on the impact of PTSD and other mental health disorders will help to address the topic from all angles. This will also help to develop an understanding and wellbeing orientated workplace.
If they are extremely anxious then moving them to a location where they can see if people are approaching will help. Or there may be a location in the office which they prefer as it makes them feel more secure. Technology can also be applied such as circadian lighting and soundscapes to induce a feeling of calm.
Memory problems can be addressed by having an ongoing task list on an electronic system which is discussed on a regular basis. The system can be set to share regular reminders to help manage the situation.
If the measures put in place aren’t working, then it is time to seek help and suggest that the individual seeks external help too. PTSD is a complex condition that may need to be managed by a professional.
From an employer perspective it is worth keeping the Equality Act 2010 in mind. PTSD if it becomes a disability i.e. it has lasted 12 months or more and has had a substantial adverse impact on day-to-day activities, then as an employer you need to make reasonable adjustment to accommodate this condition.
Conversation and technology
Open dialogue with employees is the best way to flush out problems and to keep abreast of any issues likely to arise. Encouraging openness and understanding will help with more than just tough issues like PTSD.
Introducing the right wellbeing technology will also help to create a harmonised and tranquil workplace where staff will feel at ease.