Elizabeth Arnott, SPHR
Why Trauma-Informed HR is Just Good Business
Updated: Feb 22
This is the first in a series of six articles on implementing trauma-informed management and HR practices for better workplaces.
When I started out in HR over 20 years ago, I knew above all things, I wanted to make people feel good at work. And as I gained experience doing terminations, disciplinary meetings, Union bargaining, etc., I realized how hard it is in Human Resources to make other humans feel good at work. The things we have to do sometimes are inherently traumatic for people. I remember when I first heard the term "trauma-informed" I talked about it with my HR colleagues - one person rolled their eyes - "Oh brother! One more thing to coddle people." To be clear, trauma-informed doesn't mean we coddle people - it simply means that we take into consideration the effects of trauma on each of us when we communicate, make decisions and build an organization. It means communicating in an informed way that is more effective for all involved.
Terminations, disciplinary meetings are always going to be traumatic to some extent. But can we as HR practitioners and managers do things in a way that the person still feels respected and cared for? I say yes we can - and we should. Why? Besides being the right and kind thing to do, employees who feel heard, empowered and safe are more likely to give their all, have a stronger work ethic and are less likely to be disgruntled. The upshot is that trauma-informed practices reduce your risk, improve your employees' performance and increase their impact on your bottom line. It's good business, plain and simple.
So what are the elements we need to incorporate into our workplaces to be trauma-informed? The Connecticut Women’s Consortium has created a trauma-informed checklist, which I've adapted for HR and management.
Safety. Provide physical and emotional safety for employees at all levels, assess need for support, respect employees’ pronouns and names; share clear guidelines about the process you are conducting.
Trustworthiness. Demonstrate transparency as you are going through the processes; clarity and consistency in communication.
Choice. Take employees' communication preferences and needs into consideration, prioritizing their goals for the appropriate outcome, and collaborating with them on planning for their goals.
Collaboration. Use collaborative language, valuing employees as experts in their own needs and wants, and providing or referring them to other resources as needed.
Empowerment. Recognize and nurture employees' strengths and skills, using reflective listening skills, recognizing and including the impact of marginalized identities.
Each of these elements is essential in providing a trauma-informed workplace, where employees feel psychologically safe to be themselves and to thrive in their strengths. In future posts, I'll break down each of these elements and provide examples of how to apply them to your workplace. I'd love to hear from you on how you've seen trauma-informed practices in the workplace succeed or fail - how can we do better?
The Benefits of Being Trauma Informed
Policy Guidance for Trauma Informed Human Resources Practices
A Trauma Informed Approach to Workforce