By Melissa Davies, Wise Ways Consulting
Living in the National Capitol Region, we share the area with many military installations and service members. Americans pride themselves on supporting the military. People rally around the returning troops, attend fundraisers to help support individuals, brave freezing December temperatures to lay wreaths at military cemeteries, and countless other opportunities to show their gratitude. Some even come together to build homes for those who have sustained more severe injuries that require building accommodations for prosthetics, wheelchairs and other mobility-enhancing devices.
But what about those soldiers, men and women, who carry silent burdens? Many “look” the same but suffer the real consequences of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). According to a study by the RAND Corporation, at least 20 percent of service members returning from the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from depression, PTSD ,or both. Military counselors estimate those numbers to be higher, especially when coupled with a TBI, or traumatic brain injury.
As veterans transition into a civilian work environment, it is imperative that both themselves and their employers understand how PTSD may impact everyone. They must work together to develop solutions so both the company and the veteran have the best chance at creating a work environment that is successful for all.
According to 2012 research from Babbel, PTSD can impact veterans in many ways including: memory loss, which can impact those struggling to learn new tasks on new jobs or function in meetings; lack of concentration; stress, to include panic attacks, flashbacks, and emotional extremes resulting in the potential inability to work well with colleagues and managers; and hypersensitivity to sounds, lights, large crowds, and unknown areas resulting in headaches, migraines and panic attacks.
Many veterans may not be used to the traditional work structure as compared with the military rank structure. This can cause stress frustration as the employee works to forge a new path. For someone suffering from PTSD-induced memory loss, being unable to remember how to do that basic task explained earlier in the day may cause the individual to become overwhelmed and then lash out and blame a colleague or a supervisor. These types of negative responses can impede the development of relationships and workplace morale, particularly if other employees don’t understand that the incident isn’t about them. As the tension comes to light, it’s important to identify the root cause. Is it coming from one of the identified symptoms of PTSD?
Supporting Individuals with PTSD in the workplace
- Create a safe place to ask questions and work together
- Bring in a trained facilitator/consultant to work with both management and veterans to better understand issues and then develop solutions
- Develop written procedures, meeting notes, and training manuals so employees and can refer back if they missed something at a session or need additional refreshers
- Have published calendars for team tasks so individuals can refer to these privately
- Provide access to alternate/softer lighting in work spaces
- Initiate organization-wide strategies for managing stress
- Set aside money for additional training for new members
- Provide disability training to all team members
A solid relationship between employees and managers is critical for a productive workplace. This may be difficult for a veteran suffering from PTSD, who may be working for a manager with little to no awareness of their background. Just like any employee, if the manager exhibits a lack of empathy for the individual’s situation, it becomes more difficult for the employee to be successful. This is magnified for someone struggling with PTSD.
Transitioning into a new workplace is difficult for anyone, but for those who bear the biggest burden for our freedoms, the task can seem impossible. If everyone did their part, the difference would be immeasurable.