Breaking Up is Hard to Do: Coping with Organizational TraumaMelissa C Palmer, LCSW, ACHP-SW, APHSW-C, JD Jun 29, 2021
Let’s admit it. This past year has been a bear. Between the COVID pandemic, forest fires burning across the West, and political nonsense causing polarization, we are lucky if we have survived relatively unscathed. Healthcare workers are the wounded warriors who keep pushing through and persevering. During 2020, healthcare and other organizations have been battered by the frequent changes made to accommodate the safety and welfare of our patients while making difficult choices about financial resources that impact workers’ daily lives.
I have experienced a work environment that highlights the importance of organizational health when caring for those living with serious illness. During the aftermath of a reorganization, a once-compassionate and mindful department spiraled into an environment of depersonalization and demoralization for staff. Individual ideas were not only disregarded but seen as a personal attack on management. The increased workload and unclear responsibilities caused unresolved issues that overwhelmed even the most psychologically healthy team members.
Leadership is pivotal during times of systemic stress and change. If leadership is compassionate and insightful, they acknowledge the shift in culture and work with employees to minimize the organizational trauma. Ways that leaders and staff can collaborate to redirect the trajectory include acknowledge the trauma, be willing to listen to feedback, make available increased internal resources like EAP, and provide on the clock time for support/focus groups. Compassion and patience are essential to healing from any trauma, and organizations are no exception.
However, if leadership exhibits pathological behaviors like gaslighting, intimidation, inflexibility, and insensitivity, we as employees need to look at our own well-being. When we are relatively healthy human beings, a dysfunctional relationship with an employer can become intolerable. In palliative care, we encourage patients to focus on quality of life and what really matters most. We need to do the same in our work environment.
If our leaders are unwilling or unable to make changes to improve the emotional climate in the workplace, it might be time to search for a healthier environment. Even though realistically not all work environments can be like “Trolls” (hugging and singing and dancing and glitter and rainbows), we can search for a workplace that values our skills and gives us space to grow and find meaning in our practice. Even though we can become comfortable and willing to put up with dysfunction in order to avoid change and breaking up is hard to do, sometimes leaving the abusive situation is the best situation.
https://www.hippocampus.si/ISSN/1854-4231/14.117-136.pdf Larissa Winter published this article in 2021 provides a case study of the psychological effects of organizational trauma.
I1810076569.pdf (iosrjournals.org) Understanding Organizational Trauma by Vimala Venugopal outlines types of organizational trauma.
Organizational Trauma and Healing (nsvrc.org) This PowerPoint by Fribley and Bein explains organizational trauma and resilience