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Toolkit: Trauma-Informed Workplaces

Written by Whitney Marris, LCSW, Director of Trauma-Informed Practice & System Transformation

Edited and designed by Laura Braden Quigley, Director of Communications & Outreach


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This toolkit provides educational concepts and practical strategies to support team members (I.E., defined in this toolkit as employees, staff, workers, interns, fellows, C-suite leadership, human resources and administrative professionals, volunteers, committee and board members, etc.) in advocating for more trauma-informed workplaces.

It is essential to recognize that trauma-informed change requires commitment from team members across all roles, industries, sectors, and generations – no one requires an advanced education or special degree to make an impact as a changemaker.

The highlighted content is meant to serve as a starting point that can be contextualized based on the needs and priorities of individual settings and systems.

Creating trauma-informed spaces is not about checking action items off a definitive list or taking a series of prescribed steps that can be universalized across all settings. There is also no finite endpoint to this journey. Instead, implementing trauma-informed change involves a commitment to an ongoing reflection, evaluation, discovery, and reform process.

"Trauma-informed workplaces offer a sanctuary of safety and support, a place where people can bring their whole selves and be valued for who they are." Sandra L. Bloom, M.D., CTIPP Board Chair, and Founder of Creating PRESENCE

Viewing workplaces as living and learning systems, or biocracies, is crucial because it recognizes that organizations are not static entities but rather dynamic systems that can grow, change, and develop over time. The term biocracy was first coined by physiologist Walter B. Cannon in the 1930s to describe a hypothetical society modeled after the human body. Differentiated cells are organized into functional organs that cooperate in a dynamic democracy.

In a biocracy, the organization is seen as a living system that can become ill and recover. This perspective emphasizes the importance of nurturing the health and vitality of an organization rather than simply focusing on its productivity or financial performance. Biocracy also acknowledges the importance of learning within an organization, recognizing that ongoing learning and development are necessary for an organization to thrive.

By viewing workplaces as biocracies, organizations can create a culture of collaboration, innovation, and continuous improvement. This approach also fosters a sense of shared responsibility among team members, encouraging them to work together towards a common goal.

We acknowledge that real-world considerations, such as meaningful leadership engagement and support for change, will significantly influence implementation and sustainability.

While tremendous change can occur with and emanate from a person's actions, the primary onus and responsibility for creating trauma-informed work environments must remain at the leadership/organizational level.

We also recognize that each workplace has strengths, culture, and context and honor our advocates' expertise in their settings. This toolkit is intended to provide foundational information to support making an impact in the here and now and navigating future challenges to sustaining trauma-informed transformation. We hope that each person reading this toolkit emerges with ideas on how they will implement the methods, models, principles, and ideas introduced that fit them.

We stand on the shoulders of giants. From academics to advocates, we want to honor the work, innovation, and foresight of the pioneers of the trauma-informed movement. And we are grateful to our co-authors for their time and passion in producing this valuable resource:

Do you have feedback, resource suggestions, or ideas to strengthen this toolkit? Share today:


“Today, more and more workers are worried about making ends meet, dealing with chronic stress, and struggling to balance the demands of work and personal lives. The toll on their mental health is growing.” Vivek H. Murthy, M.D, MBA, and 19th Surgeon General of the United States

Why should organizations make their workplace more trauma-informed?

Simply put: we know from a robust and growing body of research that experiencing and being impacted by trauma is common.

Many credible definitions of trauma exist, and we appreciate how Resmaa Menakem deftly explains the concept as "a thing or things that happened either too much, too soon, too fast, or for too long without something being attended to by something reparative or healing."

Traumatic experiences could include

  • Physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse

  • Physical or emotional neglect

  • Experiencing and/or witnessing violence

  • Exposure to substance use and/or mental health challenges in the home

  • Community violence

  • Loss of a loved one to death, family separation, and/or abandonment, including child protection cases, divorce, incarceration, migration experiences, etc.

  • Serious illness, pain, injury, medical procedures, and/or other frightening or upsetting health-related experiences experienced by oneself or cared-for ones

  • Bullying, discrimination, and/or unjust treatment

  • Poverty, hunger, and/or housing instability

  • Natural disasters, unjust exposure to toxins/pollution, and/or environmental degradation

  • Collective and/or historical identity-based experiences (e.g., racism, genocide, ethnocide, oppression, disenfranchisement, etc.)

  • Refugee/asylee experiences, exposure to torture, terrorism, and/or war experiences

Seventy percent of U.S. adults have experienced at least one traumatic event, and 76% percent of full-time U.S.-based employees reported at least one symptom of a mental health condition in 2021, an increase of 17 percentage points in just two years.

Since the onset of the global pandemic, the American workforce has experienced compounding societal pressures – individually and collectively. Fifty-two percent of those surveyed reported feeling burned out before COVID-19, and 67% believed that feeling worsened throughout the pandemic.

Another 2021 survey found that 80% of workers reported that workplace stress affects their relationships with friends, family, and coworkers. Only 38% of those who knew about their organization’s mental health services would feel comfortable using them – signaling an urgent need for change in how organizations and systems support workforce well-being.

Risks to mental health at work can include

  • Under-use of skills or being under-skilled for work

  • Excessive workloads or work pace, understaffing

  • Long, unsocial, or inflexible hours

  • Lack of control over job design or workload

  • Unsafe or poor physical working conditions

  • Limited support from colleagues or authoritarian supervision/leadership

  • Violence, harassment, or bullying

  • Discrimination and exclusion

  • Unclear job role

  • Under- or over-promotion

  • Job insecurity, inadequate pay, or poor investment in career development

  • Conflicting home/work demands

  • Perceived or actual resource insufficiencies

  • Uncertainty and/or lack of transparency

  • Poor/inconsistent communication

  • Perceived or actual powerlessness/lack of control in one’s work role/activities

  • Having to make professional decisions out of alignment with one’s personal values

  • Limited opportunities/support for growth

  • Lack of access to resources and benefits that support work-life balance and holistic well-being

  • Administrative burden

And beyond the work-related toll on health and well-being individuals report experiencing, U.S. workforce-related chronic diseases and injuries cost employers more than half a trillion dollars in lost productivity each year. Other costs include

  • Mental health conditions are estimated to cost employers in the United States up to $193.2 billion annually in lost earnings due to absenteeism and presenteeism.

  • Anxiety and depression cost the global economy over $1 trillion in lost productivity yearly.

  • Workplace stress costs U.S. employers $500 billion annually in lost productivity.

Trauma-informed approaches are gaining momentum across society – in healthcare, education, the legal system, journalism, and more – because they utilize the best scientific evidence, known as NEAR (Neuroscience, Epigenetics, Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), and Resilience research) science, to help prevent avoidable harm, build resilience, and promote healing, engagement, and empowerment.

Trauma-informed policies and practices are comprehensive and focused on preventing, mitigating, and addressing stressful and adverse events. Trauma-informed workplaces can also increase safety, health, well-being, productivity, and commitment to the organization’s mission.

The global pandemic has accelerated the adoption of this paradigm shift in communities across the nation and by many of our federal leaders, including U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, M.D., M.B.A., who opined in their 2022 landmark report, Framework for Workplace Mental Health and Well-Being:

“The pandemic has presented us with an opportunity to rethink how we work. We have the power to make workplaces engines for mental health and well-being. Doing so will require organizations to rethink how they protect workers from harm, foster a sense of connection among workers, show them that they matter, make space for their lives outside work, and support their long-term professional growth. This may not be easy. But it will be worth it because the benefits will accrue to workers and organizations. A healthy workforce is a foundation for thriving organizations and a healthy community.”

Indeed, recent surveys also demonstrate a significant disparity between the support leaders think they are providing versus the support team members report experiencing.

  • Seventy-one percent of surveyed employers believed they supported employee mental health well or very well, and only 27% of team members agreed.

  • Ninety-seven percent of surveyed CEOs said all levels of their organization were empathetic to employees’ mental health, and only 69% of team members agreed.

This disparity signals a need for change. It is well-established that workplaces that bridge the gap with genuine trauma-informed reforms can create an environment where trust and transparency are maximized.

Hence, leaders can more authentically attune themselves to team members’ experiences and take impactful action to implement changes to improve everyone’s individual and collective experiences.

Organizations where team members reported trusting their management enjoyed

  • 74% less stress

  • 106% more energy at work

  • 50% higher productivity

  • 13% fewer sick days

  • 76% more engagement

  • 29% more life satisfaction

  • 40% less burnout

A trauma-informed workplace can serve as a protective factor in someone’s life and support a sense of meaning and connection to one’s values. Beyond providing a livelihood, a healthy workplace can also build competence and help team members remain anchored in a shared purpose while providing lifelong connections, collaboration, and community opportunities.

Bottom line? Improving work environments and systems with trauma-informed policies and practices can enhance safety, health, wellness, trust, and productivity, ultimately unleashing a positive ripple impact on team members’ families and communities.



Most of your colleagues have likely experienced a traumatic event, yet each of their experiences is wholly unique. Trauma, stress, and adversity affect everyone differently, and not everyone is aware or able to articulate how they have been adversely impacted.

Trauma can diminish healthy development, memory, perception, and judgment. Without proper support, healing, and repair, trauma can lead to changes in the brain that impact the body and mind throughout the lifespan and influence behavior and relationships.

"The workplace is no stranger to productivity, career growth, and professionalism expectations. It has been ingrained in us since pre-school when we were asked the age-old question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” As we got older, our success was measured by our academic performance, achievement, and dedication to hard work. In addition to providing access to services, employers should incorporate mental health into workplace policies and practices. This includes offering flexible working hours and paid sick leave, helping employees find resources for mental health issues outside the workplace, and setting up a safe space to discuss these topics." Vernisha Crawford, CEO of the Trauma Informed Institute and Founder of the BYE Foundation

Personal illness, loss of a loved one, childhood adversity, social isolation, economic loss/instability, wars, changes in access to human rights, social discord, humanitarian emergencies, and ongoing discrimination, racism, and oppression all compound to take an even greater toll on our well-being and ability to perform our jobs well. With each press of those buttons, our capacity to cope is diminished since we have not yet had the chance to recover from the last blow.

Some commons signs and symptoms someone impacted with trauma may exhibit

  • Feeling on edge or overwhelmed

  • Persistent trouble focusing, concentrating, or paying attention

  • Counterproductive behaviors like snappy, reactive, or irritable reactions – high sensitivity to sensory stimuli (E.G., becoming frustrated with or stressed at the sound of someone chewing gum or tapping a pen on the table)

  • Chronic pain, illness, or fatigue

  • Mental health and substance use challenges. In Canada (with similar rates likely in the U.S.), “mental illness” is the fastest-growing disability claim type. In 2