Trauma in the workplace

— Skylight Trust

In your workplace, people may be affected by traumatic situations.​

A traumatic event or critical incident can happen in the workplace or to employees who are working off site. For example:

Many people will recover well after a traumatic incident, both personally and professionally, by using their own coping skills, but some staff may need extra support.

In your workplace, people who may be affected by traumatic situations could include:

  • employees, clients and customers directly experiencing the event
  • those witnessing the event or the immediate aftermath
  • other employees hearing about what has happened (for some, this could be triggering)
  • employees who led or helped with the aftermath response
  • the owner, chief executive or board of the business or organisation who have responsibility for managing the workplace event
  • those who have had a near miss, due to chance circumstances
  • those who help employees in the following days, weeks and months
  • the family members or close friends of those directly affected, including children and young people
  • clients, customers or concerned members of the community, who have heard about the event.

Traumatic experiences and the reactions to them, can be intense. After shocking, frightening or tragic situations, (whatever the cause), strong reactions are of course, understandable. These reactions take place in the brain.

What you can experience during the event:

Our brains have an 'alarm system' to let us know that we might be threatened or in danger. If a threat is identified, our brain immediately prepares our body to respond, by sending biochemical signals to instruct us to fight, flee or freeze. The brain has the control. Each response is designed to protect us, depending on the degree of threat. Often people wonder why they ran away or stayed and fought, or why they were immobilised.

To give the body energy to respond to whatever might happen next, the brain also unleashes hormones that raise blood sugar, adrenaline levels and heart rate. The body's 'alarm system' also triggers emotional responses, after something traumatic has happened. These can be short lived, but the greater the trauma the more complex the reactions.

Naturally, people need time to process what has happened. The body needs time to return to normal. However, if traumatic things keep happening, the brain may get locked into a hyper-alert state. This can be very demanding and exhausting for the person to manage.

What you can experience after the event:

  • intrusive thoughts or images that come to mind without your controls
  • survivors guilt
  • feeling hopeless
  • anger
  • fear
  • sleep issues
  • lacking concentration
  • feeling numb
  • fatigue
  • headaches
  • risk taking behaviours.

Existing health conditions, (such as epilepsy, heart conditions, and mental illness), may also be exacerbated, adding more stress and discomfort in a person's life.

If you find yourself in this situation, talk to your Manager and tell them how you feel, so they can support your needs and seek professional help if necessary.

Resources Available at Skylight

Skylight is here to help you through difficult times. We can assist you in a variety of ways with information appropriate for your situation. You are welcome to visit us and receive free information and a support pack from our resource centre and borrow books from the specialist library. We also facilitate Professional Development training and offer Counselling support services for children, young people, family/whānau and individuals who are experiencing tough times.

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