Supporting adult Survivors of childhood trauma—an HR perspective

Sue GottIt’s hardly surprising that HR leaders are concerned about the workplace experience of adult Survivors of childhood trauma. It’s now widely understood that ACE’s (Adverse Childhood Experiences) are a Number 1 Public Health issue. Childhood adversity impacts workplace wellbeing in so many areas: physical health, addictions, eating disorders and even revictimisation in the form of sexual assault or domestic violence.  “Job hopping” and self-harm can also be a hallmark of trauma; and awareness of the issues and how to respond is therefore crucial for wellbeing programmes.

We talked to Sue Gott, HR Consultant and Director of Bluebell HR Solutions Ltd about a case of Post Traumatic Stress—a common diagnosis for adult Survivors.

I was asked to consult by a company that was generally supported by a national HR service provider, as they didn’t have their own HR department. The employee in question suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and was extremely anxious. He had struggled to hold down a job on a regular basis in the past and the employer was aware of this prior to hiring him. However, I don’t think they had an in-depth understanding of the reasons behind this. Not long into the job, the employee in question started to take periods of absence during which he failed to follow the absence reporting procedure. The company was advised by the national HR service provider to manage the situation using the disciplinary procedure. I really did not agree with this course of action.

For me, there is an important distinction between disciplinary and capability and it is important to know which route to take.

Disciplinary should be applied when somebody won’t do something and capability is when someone can’t, and there are a number of reasons why someone can’t.

If someone is debilitated as a result of something that they are suffering from, it is inappropriate to take them down the disciplinary route because that person can’t get out of bed, can’t face the world, can’t make a phone call.

It is not that they won’t it is that they physically can’t.

Therefore, when I stepped in I told them that ultimately, you may end up in the same place, but we should treat this as a capability matter working empathetically to encourage improvement with a lot of support, rather than as a disciplinary issue. So, we used occupational health to engage with his counsellor, to get reports in order to try to give him a chance to get well and stay in employment.

For example, we talked to him about what to do if he felt an episode coming on. Instead of waiting until the following morning and missing a call to HR, he was asked to contact a family member or counsellor,  and get them to call us. Under normal circumstances, HR would not accept calls from anyone else on an employee’s behalf but we put a support mechanism around him. This individual also had a history of self-harm so asking him to contact his counsellor in case of an episode was also part of their duty of care.

For me, it is about knowing that you might end up in the same place where the person cannot remain in employment because the impact on the business is so detrimental. But how you treat that person as you go through the process is so important. You don’t want them to leave ‘destroyed’ because at some point he or she is going to have to try to get back into work.

Find Sue on LinkedIn:

Disclaimer: Goddard Consultants Coaching Practice CIC is not responsible for the view expressed in this article – the views expressed are those of the blog article author. Blog articles are not an endorsement of an individual or a service.

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