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How Can Workplaces Respond Effectively to the Trauma of Covid 19 ?

We have almost reached the two-year mark of managing the effects of Covid -19.  This is a time for us all to reflect on the trauma that it has created in our personal and work lives.  The word trauma may sound extreme to some but the definition as a deeply distressing or disturbing experience likely reflects most individuals experience with Covid.  Trauma can also be prevalent when someone’s sense of well being is threatened. We know through research and reports1 that the impact of Covid on our mental health and well being has been substantial. Those in Healthcare or working on the front line may have had a more intense experience than those of us who were able to work from home, but we have all been impacted.

Through my efforts with workplace conflict, I have been supporting those exposed to workplace trauma for many years and recognize that a trauma informed approach is important.  I’m not a counsellor or psychologist but have undertaken extensive training in this area and recognize the signs and effects of trauma. It can be seen in behaviours such as withdrawing, outbursts, or escalating conflict and impacts performance and working relationships.  It can originate from personal traumas or workplace traumas such as bullying, harassment, violence, extended conflict or toxic workplaces.

I wanted to share a few important learnings that may support leaders, managers and HR staff to cope with the on-going impacts of Covid-19 on their staff, colleagues and themselves.

A trauma informed approach fosters the following principles:

  1. Safety and Trust.

Offer support using words and body language that convey respect, calmness, and an open, patient acceptance of the other person. Ask yourself, “How could this behaviour make sense as a reaction to past trauma?” and “What might this person need to avoid reliving their trauma in the future?”

  1. Choice and Voice.

Ensure the person has all the necessary information for any decisions they are being asked to make. As much as possible, let people choose what happens to them, or choose their own pacing for how to move forward. Ask for their opinions and proactively encourage questions.

  1. Strengths and Resilience.

Recognize the unique strengths and resilience in the person. Practice seeing that all behaviours are adaptive in the right context. For example, explain how fight, flight, or freeze reactions are sometimes the best responses for survival in the face of an actual threat. Recognize that the person has survived past trauma, and therefore they have strengths to harness. Validate them and be curious about acknowledging the strengths inherent in the person’s story.

Awareness, recognition and understanding of trauma is key to addressing it. Its important to note that organizations can foster these principles without using the word trauma. Focusing on communicating with these principles in mind will set a tone for all employees to be successful.  Open dialogue in a safe space is a first step to ensuring your workplace can respond effectively to the needs of employees who have experienced trauma through Covid-19.


  1. Canadian Institutes of Health Research –; Lifeworks Mental Health Index –
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