Trauma-informed management is essential, and sustaining a workplace culture to empower employees is a daunting task. An ever-changing environment means continuous effort, reinforcement, and adaptation for leaders in Human Resources. And given the ubiquity of trauma in the world, unlocking the potential of trauma-sensitive leadership is mission-critical.

Dedicated leaders ensure their companies exude safety and inclusivity, enabling every employee to flourish. Vibrant and empathic workplaces embrace and uplift individuals affected by trauma, delivering profound transformation, and unwavering organizational support.

Here’s what we’ll cover:


What is trauma-informed management?

Trauma-informed management is an energized leadership approach that acknowledges and accommodates the profound impact of trauma on employees within the workplace. Organizations may be motivated to adopt a trauma-informed approach in response to a specific traumatic event, or just want to support the well-being of their people.

Fostering a trauma-informed workplace nurtures a secure environment, and fuels empathy, resilience, and total well-being for every person.

This dynamic management approach heightens awareness of trauma and its pervasive influence on total well-being, implementing informed principles across leadership practices and corporate policies. It centers on trust and empowerment, supporting employees while fostering a vibrant work environment for all.

Cultural awareness and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts greatly contribute to effective trauma-informed management.

Defining trauma

According to Gallup’s 2022 “State of the Global Workplace,” stress is at an all-time high. The global pandemic produced a mental health crisis with effects that will be felt for years to come. Trauma encompasses an individual’s responses to distressing events, which can stem from various sources such as community or domestic violence, assault, harassment or bullying, physical or sexual abuse, childhood neglect, natural disasters, illness or accidents, and collective trauma like conflict or war. Notably, childhood traumatic events carry lasting implications into adulthood; acknowledging this is vital to a practical trauma-informed approach.

Traumatized employees come from all backgrounds. However, it’s crucial to recognize that marginalized racial and ethnic communities, as well as individuals with lower socio-economic status, often bear a disproportionate burden of traumatic events.

This disparity is influenced by intergenerational trauma, identity-motivated violence, and the persistent presence of cultural and institutional inequalities, limiting health services and social support systems that aid in recovery. These factors heighten the vulnerability of certain groups and compound existing trauma. Cultural awareness and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts greatly contribute to effective trauma-informed management.

Trauma and life at work

Intense, frequent, or prolonged exposure to trauma results in toxic stress, which profoundly alters brain functioning. Trauma triggers the brain’s preparation for fight, flight, freeze, or fawn responses, leading to heightened heart rate, elevated blood pressure, and a release of stress hormones, like cortisol. Toxic stress responses can be triggered years after traumatic events have occurred.

Persistent trauma keeps the body locked in a state of toxic stress, where excess cortisol detrimentally affects memory, learning, and executive function. People experiencing trauma may experience diminished capacity to receive direction and manage multiple tasks, and struggle to focus, make decisions, or problem-solve—all crucial abilities for effective functioning in the workplace.

Recognizing and accommodating the deep impact of trauma responses is powerful. And absolutely essential to cultivating dynamic and thriving work environments attuned to employee well-being and engagement.

Trauma-informed organizations encourage seeking support. These organizations actively disseminate information about resources, smashing barriers that impede access to compassionate care.

5 ways to create an empathetic and resilient workplace

Neuroscientists marvel at the brain’s incredible ability to heal damage, a superpower called neuroplasticity. No matter a person’s age, having new, positive, and supportive experiences can rewire the brain and nervous system after traumatic events. In this way, trauma-informed management imparts profound positive outcomes for employees at work and in life.

1. Increase awareness and empathy

Provide comprehensive employee education and training to heighten awareness and understanding of trauma’s deep impact. And acknowledge how trauma affects employee well-being and work performance. Reflect on leadership behaviors that may trigger distress and learn to recognize signs of a trauma response, and employ compassionate language organizationally to address trauma and triggers.

2. Foster open communication and transparency

Foster trust through open and honest communication, transparency, and consistency. Uncertainty can be triggering for people with a history of trauma. Supervisors and colleagues who demonstrate empathy toward one another actively listen, acknowledge, and validate experiences. Transparency and clear, consistent expectations help employees feel secure.

3. Increase flexibility and accommodations

Prioritize employee well-being, consider trauma-related needs, and offer accommodations when necessary with flexible work arrangements. Trauma affects everyone differently, and needs vary. A personalized approach to supporting employees includes flexible work schedules, modified assignments, or adjustments to work environments to help individuals manage trauma-related challenges.

4. Promote self-care and work-life balance

Trauma-informed workplaces champion work-life balance, fuel stress reduction, and champion employee well-being. Striking an equilibrium between work obligations and personal needs is paramount, particularly for trauma survivors and their families. Accomplishing this feat means providing access to invigorating wellness programs, flexible work arrangements, and breaks to reenergize and refocus.

5. Empower and encourage

Trauma-informed organizations encourage seeking support. So access to resources and services is diligently ensured. Through employee assistance programs, counseling services, and expert referrals, individuals are bolstered with the resources they need. The organization actively disseminates information about these resources, smashing barriers that impede access to compassionate care.

Ultimately, a trauma-informed approach helps create a workplace culture that resists re-traumatization and promotes healing, growth, and total well-being for all employees.

A trauma-informed approach to leadership

Leaders must be confident in navigating challenging situations with compassionate action. Trauma-informed leadership skills include being a positive motivator, emphasizing empathic relationships, empowering individual autonomy, building resilience at work, and avoiding re-traumatization or triggering trauma-related responses.

Beth Spiegel, a workplace well-being champion at Espresa, talks about how to empower employees through the lens of creating company-wide psychological safety: “Organizational-wide initiatives that encourage healthy behaviors tell your people that you care about their emotional well-being. Recognizing the impacts of behavioral health on positive outcomes for companies is paramount to successful leaders. Encourage a compassionate workplace culture from the top down to truly take care of your people.”

Watch now: Employee Total Well-being, Delivering Healthy Engagement

Supporting the total well-being of each team member means recognizing and acknowledging trauma and challenges are present in everyday life. It means knowing your people have the power to do incredible work in the face of adversity. And it means leadership models resilience and coping strategies and techniques that allow your people to redefine their trauma, level up performance and supercharge career growth.

Psychological safety in the workplace

A trauma-informed approach prioritizes psychological safety. It ensures that employees feel safe in their work environment and also demonstrates a culture committed to taking a trauma-informed approach, where individuals feel comfortable sharing their concerns and experiences without fear of judgment or retaliation.

Supportive, trusting relationships between employees and practices that recognize and address signs of trauma response. Intrusive thoughts, avoidance, withdrawal, lack of interest, concentration or focus, memory issues, fear or anxiety, and hypervigilance all signal potential responses to trauma.

While the symptoms of a trauma response are personal, they can be easier to recognize than triggers. While not all triggers can be avoided, leaders can help team members identify and manage them by modeling self-awareness and trauma management techniques. These techniques include grounding yourself when signs of a trauma response begin, slowing down and reminding yourself you are safe, and making space to break from a situation that has triggered a trauma response.

Promote mental health with a Lifestyle Spending Account (LSA)

A company-wide trauma-informed approach creates a healthier, more collaborative, and people-centered workplace. This includes improved productivity, reduced absenteeism, and increased employee engagement and retention.

Provide access to resources that support employee mental health, such as employee assistance programs, mental health services, and referrals to behavioral health professionals. By providing necessary support and accommodations, organizations enable employees to perform at their best, boosting productivity and efficiency across the board.

An LSA demonstrates that you understand your employees’ individual needs. Espresa takes the guesswork out of creating a program that celebrates your employees’ total well-being, with a Lifestyle Spending Account platform built to engage the entire HR culture ecosystem. Engage compassionate and trauma-informed culture. Reach out to our team for a demo.


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