In recent years, companies have been offered increasingly attractive incentives to hire veterans. Realistically, veterans make excellent hires being that they are disciplined, trainable, and generally have a can-do attitude. But one of the common concerns that come up for companies considering hiring a vet centers around post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and what employers need to do to best support these employees in the workplace.
So, before we dive in, let’s discuss the basics: What is PTSD? Essentially, PTSD is an anxiety disorder which can develop in individuals that have experienced a life-threatening event, such as combat for soldiers, or even those that have witnessed a life-threatening event. However, not all folks who experience a traumatic event will ultimately develop PTSD. In fact, studies suggest that a whopping 70-percent of us will experience a traumatic event across their lifetime, but only about 20 percent will develop PTSD, and only about 8 percent, or about 24.4 million people, will have it at any given time. Certainly, we expect those that have spent time in combat to have a higher risk of developing PTSD, but we should be careful not to assume that all soldiers who served will have PTSD. Similarly, PTSD can certainly occur outside of combat scenarios, with victims of sexual abuse or assault, serious injury, or even those that have experienced the death of a loved one at an increased risk of developing the disorder.
In terms of how PTSD manifests, it is generally thought that it alters the way in which the body reacts to stress. The “classic” sign that we associate with PTSD would be flashbacks or nightmares, but it can also manifest as irritability, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, avoidance of trauma-related stimuli or hypervigilance, and feelings of social isolation. In the workplace, PTSD is more likely to manifest as distractibility, inability to concentrate, poor memory, inability to cope with workplace stressors, anxiety, and potentially even some awkwardness during social interactions with colleagues.
In order to set these employees up for success despite the challenges of PTSD, we recommend that employers take the following steps:
Educate and train:
The first step towards helping someone with PTSD is to understand what it entails and educate those that will be interacting with the employee such as all supervisors, managers and your HR folks about the signs and symptoms of PTSD and how they might observe it in the workplace.
Sometimes those who have PTSD are embarrassed to mention that they are struggling, so be proactive and ask them if any assistance is required. Even if they decline, let them know that you are always available as a sounding board or to help them trouble shoot solutions should the need arise.
While this is not true of all folks with PTSD, some may have specific triggers that can increase anxiety. Where possible, consider engaging in the interactive process to determine whether there are reasonable accommodations that can be made to better support this employee’s needs. For more information on how to initiate the interactive process, check out our previous blog posting with more information.
Work the workspace:
To address the difficulties that these folks may have with concentration and distractibility, where appropriate, consider setting this employee up in a workspace where there are few opportunities for distractions, such as those that are away from busy hallways or typical gathering spots. In addition, offer the employee noise cancelling headphones, again, where appropriate, so that they can better concentrate on the task at hand.
Adjust your workflow:
If you are a project-oriented team, recognize that one large deadline may prove too demanding and stressful to an employee with PTSD. Instead, build in a series of checkpoints where you can assess progress towards the end goal, as well as check in with the employee about whether they are feeling overwhelmed or anxious about the direction of the project. Those that struggle to concentrate may also welcome the opportunity for mutually-developed to-do lists that clearly outline the steps to a project so that they can stay on task and you can monitor progress without helicoptering over them.
Understand the options:
If you are a client of Abel HRs, then you know about the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which provides struggling employees with access to mental health and support services. These programs, which are open to the employee and their family members, offers easy access to experts that can make a quick assessment and facilitate access to additional support services. If you aren’t yet a member, now is a great time to explore whether it is feasible to offer such a plan to your employees or to strategize a way to otherwise help your workers access such services in your area. Have you experienced an employee with PTSD in your workplace? If so, let us know in the comments which strategies have proved most effective in helping them feel supported and successful.