PTSD in the workplace: Training managers to cope with troubled veterans

by on November 12, 2014 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Cafe

Veterans Day was this week, and what better time could there be to reflect on your organization’s commitment to military veterans — not only employing them, but also helping them negotiate the transition to civilian work?

All too frequently, that transition is complicated by the lingering effects of traumatic events that veterans experienced at war. According to the Veterans Administration, anywhere from 10% to 18% of the almost 2 million veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a condition that may manifest in a number of debilitating symptoms.

Veterans aren’t the only people in your workforce who may suffer from PTSD — individuals can experience it as a result of a range of violent acts or threats of violence — but it’s particularly acute within their ranks.

In the front lines
Because your managers and supervisors stand in the front lines of your relationships with employees, it’s important for them to know what PTSD is, how to recognize it, and how they can help employees who have experienced PTSD episodes. Depending on how many veterans you employ, you may want to develop or acquire a training curriculum covering these points.

To help you out, here are some basics:

1. PTSD is defined by the National Institute of Mental Health as “an anxiety disorder that some people get after seeing or living through a dangerous event.” Combat may give rise to such events, but so also may accidents, sexual aggression, assault, or childhood abuse or neglect. PTSD is a twisted, unhealthy version of the healthy, natural “fight or flight” reflex — unhealthy in that sufferers may feel frightened or stressed long after the danger has passed.

2. Managers — or co-workers — may be tipped off to a PTSD condition if a person:

  • unexpectedly loses focus or concentration, due to intrusive thoughts or recollections of the traumatic event
  • avoids activities, situations, people, and/or conversations – especially those that are associated with the trauma in some way
  • seems unnaturally detached or lacking interest in his/her surroundings, and/or
  • appears irritable, easily angered, overanxious or easily startled.

3. Managers can, with the support of HR and/or other specialists, provide a number of practical accommodations for veterans — or other employees — with PTSD. Here are some:

  • For memory issues, supervisors may want to give written instructions and task lists, and regularly remind the employee of assignments due.
  • For people who have trouble concentrating, supervisors might let them to listen to soothing music or white noise on a headset to block out distractions or enclose their workspace or provide a private space.
  • To help manage stress, supervisors might allow longer or more frequent breaks or permit time off for counseling.
  • For people who have trouble engaging with co-workers, supervisors might allow them to work from home at least part-time, or find a position that requires less interaction.
  • To help with sleep disturbances, supervisors could allow for flexible start times and/or provide a place to sleep at work during breaks.

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Duty to veterans
PTSD can be troublesome and even frightening, both to those who experience it and, sometimes, to those around them.

But in the vast majority of cases, sufferers can be accommodated in a way that allows them to do their job acceptably — and allows the employer to do its duty to military veterans who have done theirs, often at the risk of their lives.

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