According to Help Guide (www.helpguide.org), “Emotional and psychological trauma is the result of extraordinarily stressful events that shatter your sense of security, or make you feel helpless.” Over the past 16 months, the U.S. (and many areas worldwide) have been bombarded with: massive numbers of death from COVID-19, massive layoffs and furloughs, domestic unrest, increased homicides, incidents of road and airline rage, natural disasters, mass shootings, record amounts of deaths by alcohol use and drug overdose, etc. On top of all that, there is a reluctance from many to return to what was normal before the pandemic, and there is general anxiety over what comes next.
Why am I telling you this? Because as an employer, you need to understand that your employees’ needs could be different than they were 16 months ago. Think all those things I listed above could impact someone’s sense of security or make them feel helpless? I can personally tell you that answer is yes.
Allow me to share my own personal experiences and thoughts as an example. Due to concern of contracting COVID-19, I refrained from public gatherings and close personal contact with family members and friends until I was vaccinated in March of this year. Despite being vaccinated, I remain cautious about being out in public. In addition to that, I witnessed the destruction of a major portion of a neighborhood I grew up in as a result of domestic violence in May of 2020. Later, I witnessed much of the city that I love become a fortress in anticipation of additional domestic violence.
While experiencing and witnessing all of this, I sometimes felt overwhelmed, helpless, angry and fatigued. Sound familiar? I have concluded that I’ve been dealing with trauma. The Greek word for trauma means wound; I have been wounded, and a permanent scar remains. I would submit that most of us have been wounded emotionally (and some of us have been wounded physically) over these past 16 months.
As an employer, knowing your employees (or you yourself) are dealing with trauma is important. Per Help Guide, common symptoms of experiencing trauma to look for include: anger, irritability, mood swings, anxiety, fear, withdrawing from others, feeling sad or hopeless, and feeling disconnected or numb. Common physical symptoms include insomnia, fatigue, edginess, agitation and self-medication. These symptoms can often be even further exacerbated for those living with a substance use disorder and/or mental illness.
Maybe there’s more to the story of that employee who seems to be more irritable lately. Maybe your customer who told you they haven’t been sleeping well lately has more going on under the surface than you realize. We don’t know what “normal” is going to look like when we get through this, but we do know it’s going to be different than before.
As an employer and leader, change starts with you. Whether its your interactions with employees, customers, suppliers, union officials, etc., all relationships will need to be reshaped as the new normal settles in. Careful listening, flexibility and willingness to adopt new ways of managing your businesses and teams will be more important than ever. Your ability to adapt could lead to happier, more productive employees, and stronger relationships with customers and industry partners.