Post-traumatic stress disorder can happen to anyone at any time. It doesn’t discriminate. Those experiencing PTSD can have traumatic flashback episodes, nightmares, feelings of intense stress, a pounding heartbeat, rapid breathing, muscle tension, sweating, sleep problems, hyper-vigilance, panic attacks, irritability, aggressive behaviour, difficulty concentrating, depression, and a sense of detachment from people and situations – among many other troublesome symptoms. While many associate PTSD with veterans and those fighting in wars, it can also happen after the death of a loved one, from childhood neglect, after a serious accident, from experiencing terrorist attacks or natural disasters, among other reasons.
As an employer, it can be difficult. Often those experiencing PTSD will not want to admit that they are suffering, and it may not always be straightforward in getting them to seek help or a diagnosis. For a while, even they may not realise why they feel the way they do and this can affect their work and home life. It is important to always ensure your workplace is a safe and secure place for people with mental health problems to feel that they can speak out, as well as know they won’t be discriminated against for doing so. The fear of losing your job can be as big a worry as the initial problem itself – and won’t help recovery.
Ultimately, it is for the employee to notify you, the employer, of their problem. Some may be signed off from work long term, while others will want to keep working and retain a sense of ‘normality’. In these events, it is key that you or your HR team sit down with the individual and discuss ways to help them in their work.
This might involve giving employees an option to choose where they sit – some may find it easier to be able to see an access door or window and without having their back to the room, especially if they suffer from hypervigilance. It may help if they can see the whole office so they don’t panic if someone comes up behind them unannounced.
Additionally, they may prefer to sit somewhere where noise is kept to a minimum – perhaps even a private office, where they have some space to breathe without feeling claustrophobic. Having soft ambient music may help, either through a CD player or by allowing them to wear earphones (if they feel comfortable with this). It can also help them to stay focused on the task at hand.
Employees should also be aware of making sudden loud noises, which could trigger a flashback for some sufferers. However, the privacy of the individual and their health concerns should always be paramount before speaking to other staff about recommendations. It should be at the approval of those with PTSD whether others are notified.
Flexible working hours
For many people, having a flexible working option (where appropriate), is particularly beneficial. If an employee has had a particularly bad night’s sleep, for example, look at options for them to come to work late, alternate their hours or work from home.
If they are struggling to concentrate, try breaking their tasks down into smaller chunks and giving them a clear, manageable job list to work from. They should also be given additional time for each task without the pressure of looming deadlines, which can paralyse some people. Scheduling apps and software can help the PTSD sufferer stay on top of their organisation without becoming overwhelmed.
Specific requirements should also be considered based on the trauma that has caused the PTSD. For example, if the initial trauma was a car accident, don’t expect your employee to travel to meetings in a car (or back of a car, if that is their issue) as this may cause them to panic or feel anxious. Additionally, don’t expect an employee to travel alone to another city late at night if they were assaulted, for example. Provisions should be made to help them feel safe and secure, and anything that requires them getting back to a sense of ‘normal’ should be done with assistance from their doctor or mental health practitioner, and in their own time.
Just showing you care, and understand how they may be feeling can be a huge help to someone suffering PTSD – you can find out more about the symptoms here.
IMAGE: Classroom by Robert Baxter