Earlier this year, I came across the term ‘trauma-informed workplace’ in a Fast Company article while scouting for potential trends for 2022. I realized I was probably the last one to have been acquainted with this term as it isn’t new. A quick internet search will reveal that this has been a topic of discussion long before the pandemic hit. Of course, like most other things, it received more air time over the past two years than it did before.
If you’re like me and new to this, here’s what a trauma-informed workspace is. It is a workspace that recognizes that individuals may have been subjected to trauma (at whatever scale), provides an environment that does not aggravate trauma and instead, serves as a place of healing. While it may read like a tall order, it is in fact just another term for a psychologically healthy workspace.
The above-mentioned article in Fast Company goes one step further and says, ‘Trauma—any event or experience that leads to emotional, physical, spiritual, or psychological harm, distress, or impairment—is what’s plaguing the workplace, and organizations have failed to adequately address and offer support to their employees and the organizational trauma that ensues in meaningful ways. A trauma-informed workplace seeks to minimize and limit the harm of trauma at an organizational level. As the world continues to reel from the havoc and devastation of COVID-19, organizations are falling short as they implement initiatives and strategies around employee well-being, prioritizing speed over what their employees actually need. We saw companies publicly applaud themselves for giving employees a week off to deal with burnout, despite evidence and research that suggests a week off was essentially ineffective. In a 2018 American Psychological Association survey, more than two-thirds of the 1,500 respondents reported how the mental benefits of vacation had disappeared within a few days of returning to the office. 2020 made a lot of people look at their current workplaces and realize they deserved something that’s been overdue: better. For remote and hybrid work to become better, organizations need to understand that trauma is not just an individual issue, it’s an organizational one. The future of work is trauma-informed workplaces, and it’s time to give ourselves permission to prioritize the needs of the humanity of the workforce.’
My opinion? If you’ve been here long enough, you know that I love titles, terms and phrases. You give anything a name and I am drawn to it. Many people resigning does not have the same ring as The Great Resignation, The Great Reshuffle or The Great Reset. Nor does psychologically healthy workspace have the same ring as a trauma-informed workspace. Thus, the term definitely had me hooked. Do I think it will be a trend? I think not.
Workspaces are stressful. Work is riddled with artificial urgency and communication styles that is designed to increase stress and inflict pain. Deadlines are set aggressively and almost all interview answers to me asking about sacrifices made to meet deadlines talk about personal sacrifices made but never trimming requirements or skimping on delivery. Unfortunately, years of conditioning has trained us to put work before family and self. It took a disastrous pandemic to accelerate mental well-being initiatives at work and even now, it is far from where it should be. We need to take work a little less seriously and build safe spaces that people want to work in. Even better, get to a stage where the workplace is where people come to heal; a place where they can use their skills to work on things that they enjoy without artificial stressors.
Thus, a trauma-informed workplace is a very low bar. It marks a beginning but not the end. The profession has since the start sought to boost employee engagement and even spark joy; not just by taking the likelihood of trauma into account but going beyond. The term gives us very little to go by and it is for this very reason that it will not catch on as a buzzword in 2022.
The bar is just too low.