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TOOLKIT: Trauma-Informed Workplaces


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CONTEXT & ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS


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: ctipp.org/connect.


WHY TRAUMA-INFORMED WORKPLACES?


“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.


EXPLORE FURTHER


TRAUMA IN THE WORKPLACE


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 2021, 40% of working-age adults in the U.S. reported mental health or substance use challenges.

  • Increased apathy, cynicism, pessimism, resentment, and other barriers to feeling connected to the work

  • Decreased compassion and/or empathy

  • Limited self-efficacy (e.g.,, reduced confidence in capability, feeling like nothing you can do will help/make a difference, feeling like a failure, or doubting your ability to do your job well)

  • Challenges with setting/maintaining healthy boundaries

  • Altered views of oneself, others, or the broader world

  • Sleep dysfunction

  • Loss of ability to trust others/the organization/systems, in general

  • Lack of sense of fulfillment/meaning

  • Diminished creativity

  • Increased defensiveness/feeling targeted when receiving feedback/challenges with taking accountability for actions

  • Avoidance and/or procrastination

  • Social withdrawal


Workplaces can help avoid misunderstandings and promote teamwork by shifting the frame and approach to one that acknowledges trauma and responds in ways that support a healthy workforce.


Imagine a team member with a history of high performance and engagement starting to withdraw and avoid their work responsibilities.


Trauma-informed organizations would see the notable shift in behavior as a signal for more proactive support versus labeling the team member as “lazy” or “disinterested” and, thus, withdrawing support, placing them on an employee improvement plan, or terminating employment.


Collectively, trauma can manifest in the workplace through

  • Higher turnover. More than 40% of employees surveyed in 2021 say they intend to find a new job with a different company in the next year, up from roughly 33% in 2019. Those who typically feel tense or stressed during the workday are more than three times as likely to say they plan to quit in the next year.

  • Higher absenteeism (E.G., sick or mental health days). Depression is estimated to cause 200 million lost workdays each year. Those with anxiety or depression reported missing, on average, roughly six times more workdays per year than individuals without a mental health condition, and depression management can reduce missed workdays by 30%. Furthermore, a recent U.K. study found that effective stress management can reduce up to 20% of costs related to absenteeism.

  • Higher presenteeism describes when people work longer hours, demonstrate lower outputs, and make little impact. Mental-health-related presenteeism can cost employers up to three times that of absenteeism.

  • Lower productivity. Eighty percent of people diagnosed with depression reported some level of functional impairment related to their depression, with 27% reporting serious difficulties showing up in their work life.

  • Increased errors, impaired executive function, and lower quality work. Ninety-one percent of those surveyed on burnout indicated that stress negatively impacted their work quality.

  • Increased counterproductive workplace practices, such as bullying and harassment.

  • Deterioration of team culture.


The cost of doing nothing far exceeds the investment needed to turn the tide.


Trauma-informed policies and practices reflect the importance of protective, reparative, and healing factors to prevent trauma, reduce re-traumatization and decrease the escalation of troubling workplace trends.


"Creating a culture of trauma-informed care requires us to look at our organizational culture, at the way we treat each other, and at the way we treat those we serve. It requires us to be intentional about creating a culture that is safe and respectful for everyone." Sandra L. Bloom, M.D., and CTIPP Board Chair

If you plant flowers and then provide depleted soil and no water or shade, could the plant be “blamed” for not thriving? Humans are much the same. No one exists in a vacuum; most workplaces are inherently designed to encourage some form of collaboration, community, and connection.


Comprehensive trauma-informed solutions build on these capacities and strengths to help ensure that work ecosystems are healthy, rewarding, respectful, and fulfilling.


Put another way, instead of deploying siloed solutions that address symptoms of unproductivity, low team member morale or retention rates, burnout, and professional unfulfillment (E.G., occasional free team lunches, complimentary coffee and snacks, and video games in the breakroom), trauma-informed policies and practices focus on preventing, mitigating, and addressing the root of these challenges: trauma.


EXPLORE FURTHER


INTEGRATING TRAUMA-INFORMED POLICIES & PRACTICES


How do we integrate trauma-informed policies and practices into the workplace?


To reiterate: 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.


Implementing trauma-informed change involves a commitment to an ongoing process of reflection, evaluation, discovery, and reform. Many real-world cultural and contextual factors will influence what is needed and what steps are necessary to make that change possible.


The below considerations are intended to spark ideas that, combined with each person’s expertise of the setting they seek to transform, provide a pathway toward implementing and sustaining trauma-informed policies and practices.


Additionally, we want to re-emphasize that while each individual can be a changemaker and contribute mightily toward shifting the culture toward one that supports team members’ full humanity and promotes meaningful experiences among team members, it is critical to ensure that organizations and broader systems are invested in supporting this change.


Individuals adapting to cope with organization- and systems-level harms to stay well enough to survive only perpetuates the cycles that create the broader workforce challenges we are seeing worsen over time; truly enlivening the values of a trauma-informed approach involves organizations and systems working together to lift this burden off of individuals and sustain environments that allow people – and the organization as a whole – to thrive.


Finally, it is vital to recognize that patience is key. Creating sustainable culture change in everyday operations and interactions often takes years of commitment and intentional work.


Deloitte found that it took over three years to see a return on investments in mental health and holistic wellness supports. We invite you to notice, celebrate, and build upon small wins, tangible changes, and gradual shifts to keep commitment and momentum strong.


Considering the above, the enclosed considerations target broader risk factors, not the individual, and focus on pragmatism and the ability for ongoing implementation across generations, industries, systems, and sectors.


Organizational Strategies


LEAD WITH EMPATHY. It is time to challenge the archetype of stoic leadership. Over two-thirds of CEOs fear showing empathy will reduce respect, yet 80% of employees would leave their job if they found a more empathetic employer (57% said they would take a pay cut to do so!).


Furthermore, studies show that leadership empathy is the skill most associated with positive outcomes. Leading with empathy helps organizations better understand inefficiencies and helps team members to feel more included and engaged at work. We acknowledge shared humanity – versus trying to “fix” each other – when we recognize unique strengths/challenges, listen actively, and commit to learning from each other.

SUPPORT HOLISTIC WELL-BEING & MENTAL HEALTH. Eighty-seven percent of surveyed team members believed their employers could provide better mental health support, and 60% of Gen Z employees reported that mental health resources guide their employment decisions. It is becoming increasingly clear that basic programs are simply not enough.


Workplaces ought to consider providing resources that have been demonstrated to be proactive and preventative when it comes to challenges like burnout, oriented to the here and now, and provide restorative experiences to resolve outstanding issues and repair any individual or collective harm done. Support is crucial for those supporting others (E.G., supervisors, managers, and team leaders), which can also strengthen and reinforce culture, collaboration, and connection across the organization.

ANCHOR CULTURE IN SHARED VALUES. A healthy work culture's deterioration (or nonexistence) can increase turnover, absenteeism, and presenteeism. It is also a key consideration when people decide how to engage with their work roles or seek new employment.


An organization’s culture should reflect a clear sense of shared mission, vision, and values, the embodiment of which can help create a sense of connection, meaning, and purpose for team members.

CONSIDER DEDICATED SUPPORT. Because trauma-informed efforts are ongoing, designating a clear and consistent point of support can maximize your investment, maintain momentum, and support sustainability by ensuring mechanisms are in place to manage ongoing reforms.


Roles to consider include a Chief Wellness Officer (CWO), wellness committee, or trauma-informed champion team – with the mission to facilitate team member access to treatment and support, oversee organizational programming, monitor progress, suggest tweaks, stay attuned to what team members need, and deploy new ideas and initiatives.

CREATE CONNECTION POINTS. Peer-to-peer mutual support can be one of the most powerful tools for improving culture, promoting overall wellness, and aligning workplace environments with the core values of a trauma-informed approach.


Facilitating trauma-informed activities like mentoring programs and support/interest groups can also lead to new strategies that benefit the whole organization. We suggest making this strategy optional with a clear, private way to opt out to honor the trauma-informed value of choice.


LEVERAGE OPPORTUNITIES TO DO MORE OF WHAT IS WORKING. What we notice and focus on grows bigger. Trauma-informed workplaces intentionally notice strengths, build upon what is already working, and leverage positive developments that can buffer and repair the adverse impacts that occur in the workplace.


For example, Beehive PR combines professional and personal growth opportunities through strengths-based goal setting, one-on-one coaching, development sessions, and biannual retreats.


PROVIDE MORE CHOICE, FLEXIBILITY & AUTONOMY. Organizations benefit from seeking natural places to embed physical and psychological safety, trust and transparency, voice, choice, and flexibility into existing mechanisms, supports, and systems. For example, more personal time off (PTO) can help reduce burnout by up to 36 percent.


Where possible, organizations should provide team members with enough structure to create clear expectations and flexibility to empower individualized approaches based on what fits best for each person. Regularly acknowledging team members’ contributions can also promote a healthy work environment. Organizations can also create safety and stability by adapting reasonable accommodations for team members struggling with trauma, mental health, and well-being challenges.

“Basecamp CEO Jason Fried recently announced that employees with any type of caretaking responsibilities could set their schedules, even if that meant working fewer hours. Being accommodating doesn’t necessarily mean lowering your standards. Flexibility can help your team thrive amid continued uncertainty.” Harvard Business Review

INCORPORATE MEANINGFUL COLLABORATION. Forty-eight percent of surveyed team members said lack of involvement in decisions contributed to stress in the workplace. Building a trauma-informed workplace must include meaningful involvement from team members – particularly those with lived trauma experiences – at all process stages.


Giving people a voice and vehicle to participate in the organization's future can greatly support retention rates, improve culture, and add to overall wellness. It can also help ensure a higher chance of success, integration, and team member satisfaction. Safety in this process is key because team members must know they can be open and authentic while offering their best ideas and feedback without retribution.

PROMOTE ACCESSIBILITY, BELONGING, DIVERSITY, EQUITY, INCLUSION & JUSTICE (ABDEIJ) Those who have experienced or witnessed discrimination in their current workplace are twice as likely (68% compared to 33%) to seek new employment. Women, people of color, and LGBTQIA2S+ team members are not only more likely to work at organizations that have those individuals in senior leadership positions but also tend to agree their workplace is psychologically healthy.


Trauma-informed workplaces intentionally embrace and celebrate diverse perspectives, identities, and experiences, seeking to instill a sense of belonging for all. A workplace’s policies, leadership, and team members demonstrate understanding – and work to address – how the pain and trauma of underlying inequities can contribute to the accumulation of stress and adversity.


Discrimination must never be tolerated; a culture of humility and openness to learn and receive feedback is essential. “Accessibility” refers to how communities, organizations, systems, and institutions make space for the richness and multidimensionality of each person’s thinking, being, and doing.


It is important to conceptualize accessibility as more than "just" environmental modifications to comply with legal requirements and instead is thought of both as an outcome and the process of actions necessary to produce a truly diverse, equitable, inclusive, and just society along the continuum of human ability and experience.

IMPROVE PHYSICAL & PSYCHOLOGICAL SAFETY. When team members know they are safe, tension and conflicts are minimized while collaboration, work performance, productivity, and goal attainment improve.


Safe and welcoming work environments demonstrate that team members are valued and enable long-term, positive change. Trauma-informed organizations should have strong accountability, clear avenues, and explicit protocols to prevent and address challenges.

BUILD MORE TRUST & TRANSPARENCY. Organizations where team members trust leadership and management experience 74% less stress, 50% higher productivity, and 40% less burnout.


Relational trust bolsters collective performance and connection to the work, so it’s vital to let team members know what to expect and to do what you say you will do (and explain where/when that does not happen) whenever possible.

DIVERSIFY COMMUNICATIONS CHANNELS. How frequently are you communicating with your team members? Through what channels and platforms? Reforms and progress will not last when people do not know about them, so a strong internal communications strategy – that encourages the utilization of support and resources – ensures consistency and longevity, reduces stigma, and builds more trust and transparency.


For example, TiER1 Performance Solutions provides resources to assess risk, find information, and get help or support using multiple formats to increase visibility and engagement. One approach includes providing information as infographics, e-mails, weekly table tents with reflections and challenges, and videos (educational and storytelling).


From an accessible and easy-to-navigate employee Intranet to a regular emailed newsletter, workplaces benefit from communicating a commitment to supporting team members in a various ways to maximize reach and adoption.

MONITOR, MEASURE, EVALUATE & PIVOT (ONGOING). Prudential Financial conducts ongoing, anonymous surveys to learn about attitudes toward managers, senior executives, and the company as a whole. That’s because leadership and team members are often on different pages about what is happening and what is needed.


This strategy helps an organization keep pace with its team members' ever-changing needs and attitudes. It also offers meaningful opportunities to shape decisions around strategies and resources that directly impact them.


Creating a baseline measurement is the critical first step to establishing an honest understanding of the workplace’s current reality, tracking progress as changes are implemented, and understanding what is working and what needs further reforms. Trackable progress markers could include, for example, fewer missed workdays, increased productivity, increased return to work (following absence), wellness program participation rates, and satisfaction surveys.


To receive authentic feedback, team members must trust that they will not face adverse consequences for being forthcoming. It is essential to be transparent about how evaluation results will be used and how you will protect private and sensitive information in the process.

TRAIN & EDUCATE TO REDUCE STIGMA. Stigma can isolate people and discourage them from seeking support and resources. All workplaces must support a universal precaution for trauma, which means that the organization and all of the team members within it leverage awareness of trauma and related concepts to commit to engaging in ways that reduce the likelihood that they will contribute to re-traumatization.


Organizations benefit from opportunities for leadership and all team members to learn more about trauma, mental health, brain/NEAR science, and wellness through ongoing education, anti-stigma campaigns, and training.


For example, Certified Angus Beef holds lunchtime learning sessions to reduce the stigma about mental health and the services available to team members. The sooner someone can identify and understand what is happening to them, the more likely they will choose to take early and proactive action to disrupt the possible adverse impacts.

MODEL THE MODEL. A recent study found that only one in three team members believe their managers lead by example regarding mental health. To create sustainable and ongoing reforms, leadership must “model the model” by demonstrating self-awareness and accountability for enlivening the values of a trauma-informed approach.


For example, if the team decides to set a boundary around expectations for communication during off-work hours, it is important that leaders also abide by it.


Leaders also can demonstrate that it is not only accepted but an expected part of workplace culture to attend to oneself by taking breaks, limiting time spent working outside of standard hours, taking vacation time, and openly discussing what is helping them to keep moving forward despite their stressors and challenges they face in their roles.


Some additional action steps employers can take (among others) include

  • Make mental health screenings administered by qualified professionals and self-assessment tools available to all team members, along with information on how to follow up on/ access supports to address these findings.

  • Offer health insurance with no or low out-of-pocket costs for mental health counseling and medication for those who wish to utilize such support.

  • Provide free or subsidized lifestyle coaching, counseling, or self-management programs.

  • Distribute materials, such as brochures, flyers, and videos, to all team members about the signs and symptoms of mental health challenges and opportunities for treatment.

  • Host seminars or workshops that address trauma and trauma-informed stress management techniques, like mindfulness, breathing exercises, and meditation, to help team members notice and reduce anxiety and stress and improve focus and motivation.

  • Create and maintain dedicated, quiet spaces for relaxation activities.

  • Ensure team members can choose how they utilize breaks and other downtimes.


Not sure where to start? Explore these assessments

Individual Strategies


ADVOCATE FOR A TRAUMA-INFORMED WORKPLACE. Everyone has a stake in culture change and can be a changemaker in their work to improve safety, health, and well-being. Trauma-informed policies and practices are multi-faceted and multi-dimensional, so everyone’s involvement is critical to make lasting and ongoing reforms.


Indeed, research shows that having the organization’s leadership engaged in the process is among the most important factors to sustained success. You can organize momentum amongst your colleagues to educate and advocate to integrate trauma-informed policies and practices. Steps include:

  • Develop an action plan that could include a vision statement, SMARTIE goals, objectives and steps to get there, and key activities (I.E., Who will do what, where, by when? How are we measuring success?)

  • Understand where leadership is focused, identify common ground and shared values, and provide constructive feedback to amplify what is working well and moving in the right direction.

  • Keep your goals as specific as possible. What do you want to change? What are your best hopes? What is already happening aligned with these goals that can be built on? What can small, concrete, actionable steps be taken to achieve this vision?

  • Consider the impacts of trauma, toxic stress, adversity, and other occupational hazards/threats to workplace well-being at the individual, department, organizational, systemic, and/or community levels.

  • Consider your current colleagues' unique strengths and skills – how can you leverage them to catalyze and sustain change?

PRACTICE SELF-AWARENESS. Check-in with yourself regularly to notice the shifts in your brain and body that inform you when you need a break or reset. For example, awareness that you are re-reading the same content may signal that it is time to take a walk or break from the activity.


Self-reflection is essential because we cannot act until we know what is happening to us. Personal honesty also helps you avoid reaching for quick relief and health-harming behaviors and increase your intentionality in practicing active coping and wellness strategies to enhance your well-being.

PRACTICE SELF-REGULATION & ONGOING SELF-CARE. Practices like mindfulness, meditation, breathing, journaling, and exercise promote healthy processing of emotions and can increase your ability to navigate stress, challenge, and change. Practice is the key word! You can also create space for restoration with regular breaks to stretch, drink a glass of water, check in with supportive colleagues or loved ones, take a walk, and get fresh air.


Practicing fulfilling hobbies outside work can further increase well-being and create a buffer against workplace stress, trauma, burnout, and compassion fatigue. You cannot pour from an empty cup and paying attention to the nine wellness dimensions can be a helpful framework to ensure you are getting your fill.

CREATE SPACE FOR COMMUNITY & CONNECTIVITY. As humans, we are hard-wired for connection. It makes sense that being intentional about staying connected to social support outside the workplace can substantially improve personal wellness.


In addition to maintaining healthy relationships with your cared-for ones, engaging actively with your community or participating in something “bigger than yourself” (E.G., regularly volunteering at a local food bank) can also help us appreciate our shared humanity, which increases our compassion and resilience while helping us remain connected to ourselves, others, and the world around us.

SET HEALTHY & CONSISTENT BOUNDARIES. Balance can be challenging when you are over- or under-involved with your work-related tasks and responsibilities. Take stock of your “zone of helpfulness” – when are you and your team at their strongest? What context and conditions support you and your team in getting there? Prioritize those factors and set boundaries on anything that does not support an environment where you and your team can thrive.

PERSONAL ASSESSMENTS: Exploring personal experience can help identify trends to inform organizational efforts:

CASE STUDIES (last updated 04.03.23)

EXPERTS AVAILABLE FOR INTERVIEWS & BRIEFINGS


APPENDIX A: Natural reactions to occupational hazards and trauma


The enclosed chart highlights natural phenomena that can show up when someone feels in “survival mode” within harmful and unsupportive work environments, as well as the positive experiences that can emerge when team members are supported through trauma-informed policies, practices, environments, relationships, and supports.


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