Trauma survivors can experience a wide variety of symptoms. As a colleague or supervisor, you may recognize some of these, and there are others you just can’t quite put your finger on. However, even if you can’t pinpoint their symptoms, you likely can recognize how their symptoms are affecting their work.

Trauma is unique to each individual – depending on the traumatic event, an individual’s personality and history, and their response to it. That means trauma can be expressed in different ways.

Some traumatic events happen in the workplace, such as:

  • Workplace accidents
  • Witness random act of violence at workplace
  • Acute stress due to downsizing and lay-offs

Other traumatic events happen outside the company’s walls, such as:

  • Domestic or interpersonal violence
  • Community violence and crime
  • Natural disasters
  • Accidents or illness of oneself or family members

Traumatized employees can have a major effect on the day-to-day operations of an organization. From absenteeism to reduced productivity, companies can lose thousands of dollars, experience decreased production, and even have increased incidences of on the job injuries. In addition, other employees can feel pressure when the trauma sufferer is not working at full capacity, and this can strain relationships. Further, without support, employees may not recognize that they’re experiencing trauma-related symptoms.


In a previous post, I mentioned the range of symptoms – psychological, cognitive, and physical – commonly seen in people who have experienced a trauma. Our ability to function and perform well correlates directly to our emotional state; this is why a healthy employee is an important part to an organization. 

Some work-specific signs of trauma that coworkers and supervisors may recognize:

  • Absenteeism or presenteeism
  • Increased incidence of illness
  • Poor decision-making
  • Damaged interpersonal relationships
  • Breakdown in communication
  • Lying or hiding mistakes

It’s important to note that any employee can exhibit these behaviors, for many different reasons. They key to identifying that these may be the result of trauma you may not know about is when these behaviors represent a change for an employee: Someone who previously never missed a day of work is suddenly out every Monday. A formerly conscientious worker starts lying or making bad decisions.


While a few people develop formal mental health conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after trauma, the literature about that condition offers good advice to organizations about fostering healing for anyone affected by trauma – establishing an environment of support and awareness. Not only do leaders within the company have the ability to improve the lives of their workers, but productivity and morale is supported by this positive culture. Some examples of company support (either by policy or individual actions):

  • Include mental health services in the company’s health insurance and HSA policies
  • Address mental health support in company policies and procedures
  • Make peer support part of the company’s culture
  • Develop a spirit of collaboration to help when a team member is in need
  • Foster sensitivity to cultural and gender issues – after traumatic events specific to a certain group (like a targeted hate crime in the community) members of that group can experience trauma without having been present at the event
  • Offer reduced hours to allow for counseling, therapy, or personal days for healing
  • Create an open-door policy. Making yourself available to listen can help employees take the steps they need to heal
  • Build resiliency with classes and workshops to foster a community of emotionally strong team members

Recognizing trauma in your colleagues is not only beneficial to the individual, but to the entire organization. With a variety of options for trauma survivors and the community around them, you and your team can be a driving force in healing and fostering a culture of resiliency and mental health.