Supporting employees with PTSD

There is no simple solution when making workplace adjustments to accommodate someone with PTSD. The key is to remain flexible and ensure that any help and support is offered confidentially and sensitively.

PTSD can have serious psychological, emotional and physical consequences. Please seek advice from a qualified professional if you have a team member suffering from PTSD whose symptoms are getting worse.

The more information you have at your disposal, the better. We have put together some helpful tips to support you as an employer:

People suffering from PTSD will often feel too embarrassed to ask for help. Initiating the conversation and asking them how you or their colleagues can help to make things easier, could be sincerely welcomed.

Ensure you listen to what they have to say and pay close attention to what is discussed. The individual may not be ready to talk, if so, reassure them that you are there when they are ready to talk. You should still address what you have observed. A good idea, is to follow up with another one-to-one meeting a little while later.

Once the conversation begins, allow the individual to take as long as they need to talk. Do not interrupt what they are saying, it is extremely difficult for them to open up or admit that they need help. Be patient and remember that letting someone talk about what is on their mind, can be a form of therapy in itself. Plan to have the conversation face to face. If the individual is not comfortable speaking, use other means of non-verbal discussion, such as email. If using email to communicate, please use positive language and ask open questions to encourage the conversation to continue.

The symptoms of PTSD can make a person’s work life challenging. 

Rather than making assumptions, the best way to find out what is causing the greatest distress, is to ask. Your goal is to find out what the individual requires, to help improve their working environment.

Here are some suggestions on how to accommodate the challenges an individual with PTSD may be experiencing at work:

Difficulty concentrating: 

Moving their workspace to a quieter location could help the individual to focus more, without trying to block out distractions. If this is not possible or not wanted, noise-cancelling headphones may be a solution. Comforting music could allow the person to relax their mind and block out distractions. Meetings can be problematic, due to the amount of information that can be discussed. Someone taking notes or recording the meeting can be a great way to ensure that the individual has a way to review sections of the meeting that may have been missed.

Poor memory:

Creating  a list of tasks, with written instructions if needed, could help with lapses in memory. Utilising calendars or electronic reminders could help to ensure that project deadlines are met.

Time and project management:

Goal setting is useful way to manage an individual’s time. By setting small achievable goals, larger projects and assignments can be broken down into more manageable sections. This can help an individual from becoming overwhelmed and not knowing where to start. Encourage the use of a “Day Plan” to schedule in breaks and tasks that need completion. A person suffering from PTSD can refer to this throughout the day to ensure the completion of assigned work. Weekly one-to-one discussions are essential to ensure that you can monitor a person’s progress and tweak any accommodations already in place, to provide further help if needed. The individual will feel a sense of structure and support by meeting on such a regular basis. Depending on how comfortable the individual is with the idea, a mentor could be assigned, to allow a person of support to always be available.

Stress:

In order to alleviate stress and anxiety, discuss any triggers in the workplace that might cause the individual to experience flashbacks or other reactions. As an employer, you could allow additional breaks to be taken through the day, make amendments to a person’s job role to limit some of the pressure, agree a flexible plan that allows time off to attend counselling appointments and any other treatment, or, maybe introduce the whole workforce to stress management exercises and time for mindfulness.

Offering constructive feedback is very important, as quite often a person suffering from PTSD can feel like they are no longer able to do their job effectively and can lose confidence in their abilities. This can lead to them experiencing Imposter Syndrome and doubting every decision they make, until they can no longer even make a decision. Positive reinforcement can really help the individual feel engaged and that what they do really matters.

Sufferers of PTSD can be easily startled by people around them. Moving their workspace to where they have a clear line of sight can help reduce anxiety levels. 

Absenteeism and lateness:

A flexible work schedule could help an individual with time off if needed. PTSD can often cause people to take unexpected time off work, whether it’s 1 day, or 1 month. Many sufferers who are not able to attend work because of their symptoms, often provide a different reason when they contact their place of work to advise of their absence. Create an environment where the individual feels comfortable explaining the real reason for not attending work, offer them the opportunity to work from home where possible, on days when facing the office or worksite is too overwhelming. More than likely, your team member will be happy to continue with their role, but from the safety of their own home.

Dealing with colleagues:

A person suffering from PTSD can experience moments of anxiety brought on by their condition. They may experience outbursts of anger and can often overreact in situations. As discussed earlier, an individual may experience Imposter Syndrome and question all of their accomplishments. They can lose confidence in their abilities and feel that everyone is out to get them. Encourage the person to avoid or remove themselves from confrontation, or heated discussions. When the situation calms, those involved should actively speak about what happened, possibly led by the employer or a manager. This can help to improve relationships and enforce teamwork within the organisation.

Have open communication with any staff who are underperforming, or who appear to be having a difficult time at work. Ask them what you can do to help.

Taking advantage of the many mental health first aid and awareness courses that exist, can be hugely beneficial to your team. These courses discuss many mental health conditions and how they can affect people in the work place, including PTSD, Anxiety and Depression. By allowing a member of management or HR to attend one of these courses, you can begin working towards a positive mental health culture in your workplace, where people feel comfortable to talk about any issues they may have and fell empowered to be the best that they can be.

PTSD At Work is committed to funding training sessions for small to medium sized businesses through England and Wales. We want to raise awareness of PTSD and it’s detrimental effects on individuals in the workplace. We want to work with you and support you in implementing key practices and policies in your business, to ensure that people who are suffering from PTSD can manage their symptoms effectively and feel safe. Ultimately, these changes will lead to an overall positive environment for your team’s mental health.

PTSD can affect any person regardless of gender, age, or vocation.

Workplace settings are not treatment settings. Although organisations should not try to substitute the role of mental health providers, working to create an environment of awareness, support and tolerance, can help PTSD sufferers working in the UK feel less isolated.