Dealing with Emotional Trauma in the Workplace

Statues Giving Support

Work and life are not entirely separate.  In fact, they are deeply intertwined, and each affects the other deeply, and should be taken into account.

Today’s post is by Ulrich Kellerer, business leader and mental health activist and co-author of The Soul of Success with Jack Canfield (CLICK HERE to get your copy).

Mass shootings, devastating hurricanes and floods, the loss or illness of a loved one, or even the heated political environment – it’s not just workplace-related incidents that can have a negative emotional impact on your employees.

At its core, trauma is an emotional and physical response to a disturbing life event, like many of the ones described above. Oftentimes, following a traumatic incident, the human mind launches to temporarily numb a person by protecting them from the initial excruciating painful feelings of grief, helplessness, and anger.

For those employees who experience trauma, they often unknowingly bring it with them each day to work. Depending on the person, an office setting can either enhance recovery or, in some situations, be a place where trauma is exacerbated.

In many of today’s work environments, negative emotions tend to, unfortunately, get brushed aside or downplayed in an effort to keep things “strictly business.” In the short term, ignoring a team member’s negative emotions might be slightly more comfortable than dealing with them. And in many cases, there are just those managers that simply don’t know how to respond to employees’ negative or distressed feelings.

However, as an international speaker, mental health expert and author, in my research, I have observed that discounting an employee’s negative emotions can cost companies millions of dollars in disengagement and lost productivity. With this aspect in mind, I believe the keys to effectively handling and responding to fluctuating emotions in the workplace are increased leadership insight and preparedness.

Following a traumatic incident, it is common for an employee to experience a wide range of emotions, which may or may not be directly related to an experience or incident. For example, a sense of disbelief, sadness, fear, and intrusive thoughts can all fall under this umbrella of reactions. Other signs of emotional trauma might include sleeplessness, anger, colleague relationship issues, detachment, work absence, depression, and in some cases, increased usage of drugs or alcohol.

While it’s not realistic to think you can predict exactly how employees will react – in the short or long term – following an emotionally jarring experience, it’s crucial to better comprehend trauma in general, and learn about various individuals’ potential reactions. With this approach, should an incident arise, you can provide reassurance to those directly impacted that their reaction is normal.

For instance, should an employee appear withdrawn, non-participative and simply “not themselves,” he or she may be experiencing difficulty coping. In this scenario, keep in mind that appropriate assessment and treatment might involve support from a mental health professional.

 How Managers and HR Can Help

The first step in better managing and helping employees with emotional trauma is to review the current support your organization has in place very carefully. By creating and implementing effective emotional/mental health programs within your organization, your staff can experience better well-being and boost productivity.

Keep in mind, to be fully effective, it starts with a top-down approach to dealing with emotional trauma in the workplace.

As business leaders, by working to shift the residual emotional effects of stressful or traumatic situations and embracing more positivity in our own lives, we can strive to help staff members enhance their emotional well-beings and professional successes.

Here are a few factors to always keep in mind when addressing employee distress following a traumatic incident:

Acknowledge what that employee might be going through

Ask them how you can help and be sure to let them know you are available to listen and talk

Understand that those individuals who are dealing with an emotional trauma will likely not be able to perform to his or her usual standard, so make alternate plans

Positivity and Support Can Be Contagious 

In positive times, it can be easy to acknowledge happiness and success.

However, in stressful, darker times, those leaders who respond sensitively and effectively to employees’ negative emotions rise above as they manage their own reactions to stress and deal with the negative emotions of team members, positively.

Quickly stepping up to the plate to face employee emotions – like anger, sadness, and fear – can ultimately minimize interpersonal turbulence, and keep staff satisfaction, engagement, and productivity unharmed and moving forward.

One Moment Can Change Your LifeUlrich Kellerer is an inspirational business leader, international speaker and mental health activist from Munich, Germany.  Kellerer is the co-author of The Soul of Success with Jack Canfield (CLICK HERE to get your copy) and the author of One Moment Can Change Your Life: Extraordinary Stories about Ordinary People (CLICK HERE to get your copy). Today, he dedicates his time to fighting the depression epidemic and promoting mental wellness in the workplace.  For More Information Visit:

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