Late last year I was working on a short assignment in an office building in California. Little did I know later that day the San Bernardino shootings would occur right next door and, when the shooters escaped the police net to unknown locations, our building would go into lockdown.

I was later diagnosed with Acute PTSD. However, it was several month later and with the help of a Trauma Therapist, that I discovered my feelings of terror and helplessness as the shootings were taking place had triggered memories of my childhood abuse which manifested itself as Acute PTSD.

But before that got established, I was instructed to fly home the next day to Denver, Colorado and continue working in an organization that did not recognize I was just as traumatized as their employees in the San Bernardino Office. Instead, it was business as usual with the same job performance expectations.

Once I returned to the office, I was met with a barrage of deadlines that needed to be met immediately. When I requested a temporary reduction in job responsibilities, it was denied. Instead I was given additional responsibilities with the comment of, “You can handle it,” coming from my Director.

When I was unable to meet my job expectations I was subjected to comments such as, “You know you still have to work,” and “When are you going to get out of your fog?” Comments such as these only serve to contribute to feelings of isolation and incompetency for a traumatized employee.

I recognize it can be a challenge for the organization and its leadership team to have workloads go unmet. However, as a member of the management team, when you are dealing with an employee that has just been involved in a traumatic experience, I am challenging you to pause and consider the following questions before reacting adversely or denying requests:

  • Take a step back and ask yourself, why is this person behaving this way?
  • Has something been introduced into their environment that could be impacting them?
  • Recognize your professional goals, such as looming work deadlines. Are they influencing your behavior?
  • What personal biases may be driving your reaction to the individual, such as personality conflicts?
As previously discussed, trauma/PTSD can result from experiencing and/or witnessing a terrifying event. Even though I was not in the room with the shooters, the experience was terrifying for me.

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I believe had my Director taken a moment to think about the above questions before approaching me, the exchange would have been very different. I may have even believed she cared. However, based on her knee-jerk response, it was clear she was only concerned with her deadlines and the increased workload she was facing if she reduced mine.

As an employer, is that how you want your employees to view you or your management team?

I doubt it. In my opinion, most employers want to do the right thing, even when it can impact the bottom line. By taking a “time out”, reassessing the situation, determining how to create a positive outcome for both parties before taking action, employers will limit their potential liability, retain talent, and lower turnover. And, did I mention – you’ll also increase your reputation as an employer of choice in the market.

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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