Case Study: How L&M Help Organisations Protect Staff Who Work With Other's Trauma

The below gives detailed insight into how L&M Consulting Ltd., helped two businesses understand:

All exposed staff were highly-skilled, professionals whose roles required the viewing of graphic, multi-sensory, and typically unedited and/or user-generated material.

The contrasting findings highlight the importance of gaining detailed, contextual understanding if organisations are to target support appropriately and cost-effectively.

The Two Businesses
Team A: Part of a large global organisation, Team A had been established for over a decade and currently had 5 members. Although other individuals within the department and organisation experience occasional exposure, Team A’s main role required daily, often highly extreme, exposure, and often with little or no warning of what they were about to witness. The Team had experienced substantial organisation-wide cuts and change, and were under greater pressure to generate income within an increasingly competitive market.

Company C: Company C was newly established with 25 members across staff and management. Viewing exposure differed across roles, but the Company’s business required all members to have knowledge of, and work with, the content. Business continuity rested on the generation of new business and maintenance of the current client base.

The Motives for Better Understanding and Seeking L&M’s Support
Team A: The organisation’s UK-based Health Lead had been given some insight into the extreme nature of the material to which the Team were exposed. They were concerned about the potential negative psychological effects and wanted to ensure that the organisation was assuming its duty of care.

Company C:  The Directors wanted to develop a company-specific Wellbeing Policy to: mitigate against the potential negative consequences of exposure, ensure staff optimal wellbeing and performance, and to gain commercial advantage with clients seeking to contract companies with strong wellbeing credentials.

How L&M Helped The Businesses Achieve Understanding
Our highly experienced consultants completed a comprehensive assessment that included L&M’s ‘VT/PTSD Culture, Strategy and Procedure Review’ and ‘Cultural Psychological Wellbeing Assessment’. Designed by our post-doctoral psychologists, these assessments have been developed using:

Team A, their immediate line manager and Health Lead, and all of Company C participated in in-depth, individual interviews. These provided a detailed understanding of how the business’s culture, strategy, procedure and everyday practice affected the staffs’; experience of exposure and support, psychological wellbeing, and in turn, their health and performance.

All of Company C and Team A also completed a quantitative work-related stress measure to provide a benchmark for future comparison and for tentative comparison against cross-industry averages. All appreciated the assessment’s focus on protecting and enhancing their health, psychological wellbeing and performance; all engaged fully with the process.

What We Came to Understand
All members of Team A and Company C are confident in their ability to produce high quality work and are strongly motived to excel and to provide worthwhile contribution to their field. All showed a good understanding of health and most aimed to live healthy lifestyles where possible.

Of importance, all relied solely on their immediate colleagues and organisation for exposure-related support: The extreme nature of their exposure prevented discussion with family, partners and friends, i.e., normal social support pathways were not perceived as available.  

Team A: Team A have a strong global reputation and are frequently commended by their Department Heads for their work quality and good work ethic. However, every member had experienced VT/PTSD-related signs and symptoms and all were unsure or worried about the long-term consequences of exposure. One member who gave an account of PTSD-related symptoms with sustained, life-influencing effect was immediately signposted to gain clinical consideration.

Beyond good inter-team exposure support and the vocal support of three levels of management, scant training and no formal exposure monitoring, protection or support was available to Team A. All questioned whether higher management fully appreciated the level of severity and frequency of Team A’s exposure, and indeed, how both had escalated in recent years.

Of significance, all Team A members highlighted that the greatest negative effect on their health and wellbeing came from the daily pressure to cope with increasing work demands and reduced resources: This greatly reduced the personal resources to cope with exposure. Such work pressures reduced opportunities to limit exposure and to benefit from good business practice that could otherwise have promoted effective respite, e.g., flexible working and the ability to cover sickness absence. With one member stating being on the verge of burnout (with increasingly serious personal consequence), all but one stated the current workload and performance levels as being unsustainable.

Further, although some everyday practices that promote psychological wellbeing were apparent, such opportunities were inconsistent. This reduced the members’ opportunity to complete and develop professionally-enriching and commercially-valuable projects and services, all of which would have enhanced the Team’s flourishing, profile and financial sustainability. All, but one, questioned whether as a team and individuals they were valued by senior management and the organisation, and with another organisational change on the horizon, all but one was looking for, or soon likely to seek, other employment. 

Company C: No-one at Company C reported experiencing VT/PTSD-related symptoms, with all but one reporting experiencing good health and psychological wellbeing. Many stated the company as being the best company they had worked for, with only one suggesting an intention to seek other employment due to external factors.

All staff were recruited having had exposure-related training within previous employment, whilst management were fully aware of the material viewed and actively promoted practice that enabled appropriate exposure, work respite and good personal health. That said, when asked, all staff were unsure of the long-term implications of exposure and of the potential for life-changes to influence coping ability.  

Psychological wellbeing was promoted through the staffs’ affinity with the company’s aims and daily positive experiences within work practice, support and workplace civility. All staff acknowledged the managements’ informal commitment to balancing staff wellbeing with, and to the benefit of, business development and success.

Despite this, the speed of the company’s growth had led to many practices not being formalised. Concerns relating to the appropriate meeting of basic health requirements and mental health monitoring and support mechanisms were apparent. Further, many ways in which individual and company performance could be further improved if good psychological wellbeing practice was better embedded into everyday activities were evident.

Provision of Context-specific, Good Practice Recommendations
Beyond promoting understanding, the purpose of the assessment is to provide a broad range of recommendations that enables the business to take control and decide upon appropriate courses of action. These therefore, not only relate to addressing current concerns, but also to reinforce and improve upon current good practice. To enable this, L&M analysed the findings in accordance with good practice guidance for those industries with trauma-exposure, and national, cross-industry research and standards for workplace wellbeing and performance. Recommendations were then provided for improved support in accordance with their specific needs.

Team A: 38 recommendations were provided in direct relation to exposure protection and support, and to encourage the business to fulfill its duty of care. These ranged across the business’s culture, procedure and systems to everyday team practice. It also included two recommendations to promote role-related physical safety and 11 to promote trauma-informed recruitment and induction systems.

45 recommendations were made as to how the business could promote staffs’ coping resources and flourishing. Approximately 1/3 related to the meeting of basic health requirements, a few to the promotion of positive personal wellbeing, and approximately 2/3rds to the development of psychological wellbeing with direct positive implication for performance.

Company C: 13 recommendations were provided in direct relation to exposure protection and support. Approximately: 1/2 related to business procedure, systems and everyday practice, 1/4 to role-associated value issues, and 1/4 to role-related physical security. 

74 recommendations aimed to promote staffs’ coping resources and flourishing. Approximately; 1/10th related to the meeting of basic health requirements, 1/5th to the better development of a mental health-appropriate culture, 1/10th to promoting positive personal wellbeing, and the remaining 2/3rds to the development of psychological wellbeing with direct positive implication for performance.

Reflecting Company C’s belief in the importance of psychological wellbeing for optimal performance, the recommendations led to the development of Company C’s Wellbeing Policy. Specifically, the policy aimed to guide and encourage practice that promotes wellbeing, with the eventual aim of such practices becoming embedded within the Company’s culture.

Assessment Delivery and Support

Findings were presented in a highly detailed report, juxtaposed with relevant research and national standards to further enhance understanding. Each section concluded with the list of contextually-driven, good practice recommendations.

Following the delivery of the report, L&M attended a meeting to: discuss the findings, provide clarification, and to assist the organisation in initiating a way forward.

Team A: The meeting with three management levels and the new Head of HR highlighted a lack of awareness of the extent and severity of staff exposure and of the staffs’ health concerns. Further, of the inadequacy of current trauma-protective support and of the need to adapt other organisational systems become trauma-informed. With full management support, an action plan was developed to address all of the exposure-related recommendations. The very vast majority were managed ‘in-house’ with responsibility distributed across management levels and departments, with further trauma-specialist counselling and education attained. 

Company C: The meeting with one of the Directors and the Head of Operations continued to highlight their commitment to ensuring the health and psychological wellbeing of their staff. It was suggested that the report’s objectivity and detail provided clear ways in which to continue to develop the company and to retain and recruit quality staff. 

The assessments highlighted how work-related exposure to others’ trauma can be of potential risk to staffs’ personal health, wellbeing and performance. Further, how the prioritisation of staff psychological wellbeing not only assists employers in the meeting of their legal requirements and duty of care, but also brings opportunities for enabling staff to flourish and to more fully contribute to the meeting of personal and business aims. In keeping with independent, national research (What Works Wellbeing, 2017), the staffs’ high-skill level and their perception of their role’s worthwhile nature endorses the strong potential of psychological wellbeing to act as a vehicle for driving and enabling business success.

Ultimately, the assessment and recommendations were timely for both businesses. The work completed by L&M encouraged and better enabled both to safeguard their staff and to fulfil their legal duties. Further, it promoted a realisation of the often simple changes that a business can make to obtain the business benefits attainable by prioritising staff wellbeing, and provided guidance of how to embed wellbeing throughout strategic and operational practice, and ultimately, the business’s culture.

We hope that this case study has been of interest and of benefit to your organisation.