How HR Professionals Can Better Help Employees Going Through a Rough Time

Learning to recognise signs of trauma & effectively empathise with employees without disrupting company operations
How HR Professionals Can Better Help Employees Going Through a Rough Time
Adrian Johansen

Life is full of ups and downs, and disasters can happen to anyone. Unfortunately, life’s hardships can negatively impact an individual’s day-to-day life, including one’s ability to perform their job.

Employees going through a rough time may struggle with performance, for instance, or overwork themselves to the point of mental exhaustion.

Yet, it doesn’t have to be so difficult for employees coping with hardship, and HR professionals can make a big difference. It starts with learning how to recognise common signs of trauma, and effectively empathising with employees without disrupting company operations.

Whether it’s an unexpected health concern, death in the family, or another type of traumatic event, HR professionals can assist employees experiencing difficulties in a number of ways. Here’s what you need to know about cultivating an inclusive workplace culture that truly cares about its employees.

Simple Measures to Assist Employees Coping with Trauma

When someone we’re close to is going through a rough time, finding the right response can be challenging. For HR professionals, the appropriate response is largely dependent on the situation and company policies.

In many cases, a simple gesture such as a sympathy card signed by co-workers and management can make a big difference. Other situations will require deeper intervention over a prolonged period of time.

To best assist employees coping with trauma, transparency is key.

No matter the individual situation, employees should be made aware of relevant policies that may apply, such as bereavement policies and those related to PTO or unpaid leave.

As unexpected health concerns can be a major source of stress for employees, healthcare topics are an ideal starting point. Consider selecting an insurance program that offers a health savings account (HSA) or similar coverage designed to reduce out-of-pocket costs related to healthcare. In general, HSAs are voluntary and should complement one’s existing insurance coverage, rather than replace it.

Some forward-thinking companies have even implemented voluntary programmes designed to assist employees who are struggling in their personal lives. Employers can also request financial help in the form of an employee assistance fund (EAF).

Requirements may vary by state, but EAFs are generally used to lower the financial burden of a traumatic event on struggling employees —and they are immensely popular.

As of 2020, the national EAF program has distributed more than $16 million in relief funds to about 500,000 struggling employees.

On a company level, establishing an EAF demonstrates compassion for your employees, and can set you apart from the competition.

Work After Trauma: Warning Signs and Supportive Techniques

Although there’s plenty of research on the long-term effects of trauma, we all deal with hardship differently. It’s crucial to keep this concept in mind when you’re working with employees going through a rough time.

For instance, those coping with a disaster or hardship may become withdrawn, isolating themselves from their co-workers. Others may lash out, in the form of an emotional outburst, anger, or mood swings. In either case, these struggles can dramatically impact workplace morale.

In every situation, ask struggling employees about their needs, and be as transparent as possible when it comes to your ability to accommodate them.

Setting clear guidelines and structure is beneficial for new employees, and it’s potentially a useful tool for those going through a rough time as well. If an employee’s negative behaviours are negatively affecting their job performance and/or the company morale as a whole, don’t be afraid to put your foot down.

Daily routines have numerous mental health benefits, especially during stressful times in one’s life. Maintaining structure and routine gives individuals a sense of control, and can boost one’s focus and productivity.

To best assist those coping with trauma, keep their workload consistent and predictable, and emphasise open communication as you watch for behavioural changes.

Interestingly, some people coping with trauma throw themselves completely into their work — and that’s not necessarily a good thing. According to The Atlantic, those coping with trauma are highly likely to develop workplace addiction, and subsequently spiral further downward.

HR professionals looking to make a difference should thus be able to recognise common signs of overwork and/or workplace burnout that may be rooted in trauma. Red flags that you should be on the lookout for include:

  • Neglect of self-care and/or hygiene
  • Prolonged lack of enthusiasm at work
  • Hostile behaviours, such as the distrust of fellow employees
  • Working extra hours or taking on additional duties

If you notice odd behaviour from employees, reach out to them, even if everything appears fine on the surface.

You may be able to prevent performance issues before they become too big to handle, while building trust among your employee base.

Team Building with Mental Health in Mind

In today’s highly competitive business landscape, a company’s reputation can hinge on compassion. Building a strong company culture involves the establishment of trust between employees and management, to the benefit of everyone.

What’s the best way to build trust and grow your company over the long term? It may sound simple, but asking your employees about their needs can go a long way.

Those experiencing trauma may not want to be singled out, so consider running a brainstorming session that involves the entire team.

Brainstorming allows employees at every level the opportunity to provide feedback about workplace policies, including what works and what doesn’t, without fear of judgment.

Employees going through a rough patch may be more likely to provide feedback in this type of inviting atmosphere.

During a feedback session related to mental health, for instance, HR professionals can ask employees about their favourite stress-relief techniques, to be shared with the team. By listening to co-workers share their personal experiences about overcoming challenges, those coping with trauma may feel more comfortable with reaching out for help.

Key Takeaways

Disasters can happen to anyone, at any time, with plenty of long-term effects. Following a traumatic event, members of the workforce may struggle with performance, morale, stress, and beyond. To keep a business running smoothly, HR professionals should reach out to employees going through a rough time and offer support in any way they can, from conducting company-wide brainstorming sessions to providing financial assistance.

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