Many years ago I volunteered to help with the St. Bernard Project, an effort which was started to rebuild the St. Bernard Parish (neighborhood) in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

At that time I met a survivor who explained he had chosen to ride out the hurricane at home. As the levees broke and water rose throughout the house he climbed to the roof, but then fell into the flood water.
At one point, when he was floundering in the rushing water, a portion of someone’s home slammed into his mouth and knocked out some of his teeth. Eventually he was able to hoist himself onto another roof projecting out of the water and wait for rescuers to arrive.

As he clung to the roof and surveyed the flood waters swirling around him he saw it was filled with snakes, debris and what he described as an inch thick coating of chemicals. He also noticed a dog paddling towards him. He risked his own safety to pull the dog onto the roof with him.
The man remarked how the dog “helped” by calming him down. However, when the rescuers arrived, they refused to take the dog into the boat. As they pulled away from the roof, the dog jumped into the water and paddled behind them until someone decided they couldn’t just leave the dog behind, and so they pulled him into the boat.

As the man relayed his story the terrorized look on his face clearly showed he was relieving the horror he had experienced. He had lost everything. At one point he commented that he still couldn’t believe rescuers wanted to leave the dog behind.
I met him several months after the hurricane and after all that time, he still was unable to return to work given the trauma he had experienced during the hurricane.

Trauma in the workplace is more common than you think. It occurs when a person either witnesses or experiences a terrifying event. Employees can experience trauma from a number of different experiences including:
• natural disasters
• military assignments
• shootings
• terrorist attacks
• domestic violence
• child abuse

However, in order for trauma to develop into PTSD, sufferers must have a least three symptoms associated with PTSD. Symptoms may include:
• hyper vigilance
• easily startled
• trouble concentrating or remembering information

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Traumatized employees can work in any department and at any level. While the Human Resource Department, Risk Management and the Leadership Team tend to be the groups responsible for responding to situations, consideration should be given to the fact that they may be impacted, as well.

If you believe your employee may be suffering from the after effects of trauma or may be experiencing PTSD, have empathy. Ask their manager to meet with them and a representative from the HR Department to explain your concerns. Then refer them to the Employee Assistance Program or ask them to obtain a “fitness for duty” release from their physician that states they can perform the functions of their job.
Most employees will recover from the traumatic experience and return to the employee they were prior to the event. But it will most likely take time.

Furthermore, the amount of time needed to recover varies by person, and not every traumatized person will experience short-term or ongoing PTSD following a horrific event.

About Alicia

20 years ago I had no idea other people didn’t recognize and interpret body language the way I did. It was just something I picked up on naturally.
I am a national conference speaker, facilitator, and coach, specializing in non-verbal communication. I received my Master of Science in Human Resources from the University of Houston.
My passion is helping others become influential so that they can reach their career and business goals.

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