This story is part of a series recognizing Mental Health Awareness Month and how RingCentral supports its employees’ mental health and well-being.
The majority of people will experience trauma at some point in their lives. Around 60% of men and 50% of women experience trauma at least once, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
A variety of factors can cause trauma. Community violence, such as mass shootings and gun violence, is on the rise. Experiencing natural disasters, intimate partner violence, physical abuse, family and reproductive problems, or bullying can cause trauma in children or adults. Some experts have also called the COVID-19 pandemic an unprecedented collective trauma.
Because so many people have experienced some form of trauma, it’s likely one of your colleagues is working with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or getting through work despite the aftereffects of a traumatic incident.
Learning to understand the effects of trauma in the workplace and how to check in with yourself and your colleagues can improve your team’s resilience. Building stronger bonds between colleagues can allow traumatized colleagues to stay in their roles and feel safe at work.
How Jess coped after trauma
Jess Paxton, a Corporate Social Responsibility Associate at RingCentral, was visiting family in Colorado in March when the King Soopers shooting took place in Boulder.
A man entered the popular supermarket with a gun and killed 10 people. At the time, Jess was only 10 minutes away. The supermarket was one she and her family frequently visited when she was a little girl.
Jess feels lucky that no one she knows was hurt in the horrific incident, but the experience shattered her sense of safety and made her feel vulnerable.
“Initially, it felt very unreal and hard to accept that it was happening right then and there,” Jess describes. “It impacted my ability to work because I was so worried for my friends and family.”
Mass shootings take place frequently in the U.S. As of April 2021, there were at least 147 mass shootings this year alone. These incidents changed the reality for many people like Jess, who often feel as if they have to look over their shoulders and remain vigilant at all times.
Jess says she often feels nervous in large crowds and looks for the nearest exit.
“I think people are always conscious about the possibility of gun violence wherever they go now. But this was the last place I would have expected that to happen, and it shattered my sense of reality,” Jess says, speaking about the shooting.
This was the last place I would have expected that to happen, and it shattered my sense of reality.
How RingCentral supports Jess
When Jess returned to work, she realized that she needed to lean on her colleagues to get past this traumatic incident, and RingCentral stepped up to provide the support she needed.
The company organized a support group where people could talk about mass shootings and how they were affected by these traumatic events. Jess, who works in the human resources department, helped with organizing some of the meetings.
“I set up a RingCentral video meeting and sent it out to the entire company. We usually have around 100 people join. People can come in and out,” Jess says.
“We didn’t really have an agenda for it. We just all came together, and we gave people the chance to either talk or sit back and listen and hear about other people’s experiences,” she added.
One of the people who joined the meeting was a former law enforcement officer. This person was involved in a shooting previously and was willing to share their experience. They also shared tips about spotting someone in a public space who might be an active shooter.
“I was taken aback by the fact that they were willing to be that open about it,” Jess says.
Following the shooting, RingCentral also brought in a therapist to talk to people about trauma. For Jess, these experiences were significant.
Jess considers herself an introvert, and it was nice to sit back and listen to other people talk about and process these traumatic incidents. She felt like she wasn’t put on the spot or forced to talk about her experience immediately.
Throughout this period, Jess learned that she didn’t have to feel alone in her trauma. Aside from the company-wide meetings, employee support groups and one-on-one check-ins also helped her immensely.
Helping and giving back to the community can help people feel more fulfilled and positive. That was what helped me after King Soopers.
How colleagues can support coworkers with trauma
To support their colleagues following a traumatic incident, teammates should learn to identify signs of chronic stress and understand how PTSD can manifest. They should then make sure their colleagues know they are available to talk or listen.
Learn to identify PTSD
Symptoms of PTSD can fall into three separate categories: intrusive, arousal, and avoidant. Intrusive symptoms can interrupt your day by bringing back painful memories of the trauma you experienced. Some people even have harrowing flashbacks and feel as if they are reliving their experience of trauma.
The arousal category of PTSD is less dramatic but no less challenging. People who manifest symptoms of this type can often live in a constant state of vigilance or hyper-arousal. They can be anxious, on edge, or easily startled.
Avoidant PTSD, meanwhile, can be challenging to spot, but it is still difficult to live and work with every day. People with this category of PTSD can shut off emotionally to avoid their feelings of trauma.
They can also fall into a depression or lose interest in things that previously brought them joy.
People with PTSD can experience various symptoms, including difficulty concentrating, panic attacks, anxiety, or memory problems. All of these can affect their ability to work, either chronically or temporarily.
Suppose you see colleagues losing interest in their work, exhibiting symptoms of anxiety or apprehension, or becoming suddenly more distracted or forgetful than usual. In that case, it’s probably time to check in with them.
Check in with colleagues
RingCentral has mastered the art of checking in with colleagues. The company has support groups and hosts meetings with outside experts, among other initiatives. Many of RingCentral’s employees also say that they feel comfortable simply reaching out to another colleague for support in times of need.
One of the simplest ways to check in with a colleague is to send them an email or a message. Show them you are open-minded and willing to listen. It may take some time before someone feels completely comfortable opening up, but signaling your willingness to listen is an excellent first step.
Make sure that you maintain an open line of communication. If someone does reach out and needs to talk, be an active listener and reserve any judgment.
Forming a support group—whether in the office or through chaat groups or video meetings —has also proven helpful for many. These groups allow extroverts and introverts to participate equally. They help form bonds and build trust through facilitating ongoing interactions.
Hosting meetings with outside experts who can shine a light on the trauma that your employees or colleagues might be experiencing, as RingCentral did when it brought in a therapist, is another helpful technique for checking in with colleagues.
These meetings allow colleagues to become better informed about an issue and normalizes conversations around traumatic incidents.
If a colleague isn’t ready to talk in a group setting, designate a safe space in the office where people can go if they’re feeling stressed or need support. That will allow a colleague to get the alone time they need to regroup and enable colleagues to check in with them later.
Foster empathy in your company
If you want to create a thriving business where employees love to work, it’s essential to foster an atmosphere of empathy and compassion where your employees feel supported if they’ve experienced trauma.
People with PTSD can sometimes experience difficulties with social interactions and relationships. Showing extra empathy toward them is essential for building a healthy work environment.
Read more on how RingCentral supports the mental health and well-being of all employees:
Originally published May 18, 2021, updated May 26, 2021