Written by Dr Caroline Marlow, Chartered Psychologist and Director of L&M Consulting Ltd. It was published by the Law Society (11.12.2020) but adapted here for cross-industry consideration.
The Corona Pandemic has brought constant change in how our work and personal lives interplay, whilst many companies consider making home working permanent. Further, it has led to an unprecedented awareness of differences in personal circumstance and their potential to affect our mental health and ability to thrive. But right now, those working at home with trauma-related material require our particular attention and support.
People are at a greater risk of developing vicarious trauma (VT) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) if they have: regular or unexpected exposure to others’ trauma, experienced personal trauma, a relevant change in personal circumstance, and other life stressors. Home working can increase this risk as:
… And to others in the home.
In particular, children and others with the above mentioned risk factors need protection against direct exposure to trauma-related material and indirect exposure through the display of negative emotions by the individual working with trauma.
So how can those exposed help themselves and what is the role of their managers and employers?
My previous blog, Work-Related Vicarious Trauma and PTSD: What to Know and Do highlighted the symptoms of VT/PTSD, and provided guidance for those exposed to trauma, their colleagues and employers. This remains a basis for appropriate support, but the following should also be acted upon to enable a collaborative approach to reducing the enhanced home-working risk: Its aim is to best promote sustainable psychological wellbeing and performance to everyone’s benefit.
Implement your own system of PPE:
3. Communicate Effectively: Honestly discuss your needs and concerns with your employer so that they can fulfil their duty of care: Likewise with your colleagues so that you can support each other. Be proactive in finding an acceptable balance of needs. Negotiate, suggest practical solutions and aim to mitigate knock-on implications. Also, let colleagues know when you are ‘on duty’, and likewise respect your colleagues’ availability requests.
Adhere to the 4As…
Also, to ensure the comany’s wellbeing and performance throughout the inevitable changes, complete a broader cultural assessment to understand the factors that impinge or promote employees’ psychological wellbeing, and thus their ability to cope, thrive and perform optimally.
Communicate and Support:
A trusting employee-manager and employee-firm relationship are essential if everyone’s mutual aim of wellbeing and performance are to be achieved. Both the manager and firm should remove any barriers to honest communication (e.g., concerns relating to job security, case-allocation, promotion), and ensure that actions and words give congruent messages of support.
Managers should have frequent 1-2-1 communication with employees. Here, show genuine concern by actively listening to, and seeking to support, employees’ needs, whist being cautious against micromanagement and excessive surveillance. Effective discussions should:
Companies should give full consideration as to who is best placed to develop this trusting relationship and provide such managerial support: The required skills are different to those required to excel in a legal field. Further, companies should ensure that managers have the autonomy and resources to support their team, and that the managers themselves are fully supported in role time allocation and support.