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Trauma-Responsive Workplaces: Building Connections

Updated: Mar 1

This month we jump into bringing connection in our workplaces which aligns with creating a culture of a trauma-responsive workplace. This is just one element of building a trauma-informed/responsive organization. I want to take a moment to acknowledge that these recommendations focus on an individual level; however, true transformation requires a commitment of leadership to enact policy and organizational changes. 




Image of a workspace with computer, reading, plants

Trauma-Responsive Workspaces 


Alex Shevrin Venet outlines the 4 pillars of trauma-informed decision making in the book Equity-Centered Trauma-Informed Education which can be utilized to form a trauma-informed workplace. These pillars include empowerment, connection, flexibility, and predictability. 

  • Connection- actions done to foster relationships

  • Empowerment- provided an active role in decision making

  • Flexibility- able to adapt strategies to meet the specific needs of the situation

  • Predictability- ability to anticipate next steps which allowing better preparation


These pillars can be used as guides to ensure we are acting in a trauma-informed way. Let’s explore some examples to see how it would play out in different situations.


You are struggling with slow rooming of patients with urinary complaints. It seems that it takes 30 minutes from check in until being ready to be seen by the provider. You assume that you know what the problem is and feel that this could easily be streamlined if the nurse would collect the urinary sample before bringing the patient to the room. You take a moment to center yourself in the 4 pillars of trauma-informed decision making. You approach the nurse to have a conversation based on respect and curiosity instead of telling the nurse what to do based on assumptions. 

  • Connection- you start the discussion by acknowledging the strengths that the nurse brings to the care team and want to get his valuable insight into the rooming process for patients with a urinary concern. By approaching this nurse in this way, you are aligning you and the nurse as a team here to strategize

  • Empowerment- you ensure the nurse is engaged in the improvement process to preserve agency over their own work

  • Flexibility- able to adapt strategies to meet the needs of the whole care team as well as a space to voice concerns or troubleshoot in the future.

  • Predictability- The team is aware of the when and how changes will be implemented. There is an established space to troubleshoot unexpected issues that arise from these changes.


Here is an example of the conversation:

Provider: Hi Nurse Alex. Thank you so much for your help today. It really was a busy schedule and I could tell you were working hard. You are a valuable part of our team. (Connection)

Do you have a few minutes to brainstorm some ideas on rooming of patients with urinary complaints?


Nurse: Yes, of course. I know that the patient today with the urinary tract infection ran really behind. I am sorry that it took so long.


Provider: I would love to learn more from you about our current process so that I can discuss potential changes with the director of nursing at my meeting on Friday. (Predictability) Could you help me understand the current process?


The nurse explains the current process and expresses frustration over patients often not being ready to provide a urinary sample. The provider then takes a moment to reflect back what the nurse said to ensure it was understood correctly and allow for clarifications if needed.


Provider: Thank you for sharing your insight. The longer rooming time does set the rest of the day behind. Do you think there are ways we could streamline the process? (Empowerment)


The nurse and provider discuss different ideas to improve the process. The provider is open to new ideas that the nurse comes up with. (Flexibility) This interaction has not only addressed an issue but also improved teamwork.

Implementing the 4 Pillars as a Leader


Group meeting at a table where 5 individuals are discussing ideas and collaborating

Scenario- team meetings often have side conversations that derail the group off of the agenda and result in important topics not being covered due to running out of time. You want to address this issue with the team and utilize the 4 pillars of trauma-informed decision making to structure the discussion. 



  • Connection- you start the meeting by introducing your concern regarding side conversation interrupting the group meetings while also acknowledging that the time together is a rare moment for connection and space to raise important concerns. 

  • Empowerment- you would like to get input on how we can reduce side conversations while still honoring the need for connection and the ability to raise concerns. 

  • Flexibility- You present some ideas but remain open and curious about ideas brought forth by the team. 

  • Predictability- You have notified the team that this topic is on the agenda ahead of time so that they can come prepared for the discussion. You also provide a clear plan and timeline for implementing changes so team members know what to expect and how their needs will be met with the new plan. 


Deeper Dive into Connection in the Workplace


I would like to take a minute to focus a bit deeper regarding connection. Connection efforts are actions that foster the relationship. This can come in many forms including acknowledgment of hard work, honoring strengths, or connecting on a human level. One powerful tool is listening with curiosity. This skill is not prioritized in our modern world which focuses on proving one's own point. Listening with curiosity can be as simple as listening to understand rather than to prove. It can be fostered by responding to someone’s statement with “tell me more”. 


Utilizing this statement is a powerful tool to increase connection by allowing others to be truly heard in a discussion. Let’s explore how this may show up in our week:


Patient Interaction: The patient mentions recently moving to the school since their Ph.D advisor transferred universities for a big food science grant. You take a moment to foster connection by asking, “Tell me more about your focus area for your Ph.D.”


Colleague Interaction: A colleague mentions being excited about the upcoming public health event to support better sleep in students. You harness this moment for connection and state, “You sound excited! Tell me more about the event.”


Leading a Meeting: One staff member mentions feeling overwhelmed with walk-in patients. Instead of trying to convince them that the number of walk-in patients are the same as last semester you stop and get curious by saying, “I would love to understand better. Can you tell me more about what is feeling overwhelming”



Next steps:

Take a moment to set an intention to utilize one of the pillars for trauma-informed decision making. This can be powerful to use at work and at home. Here are some examples:

  • Increase predictability in an upcoming meeting by explicitly stating the follow up steps for an action item. State how and when the team will be notified when the next step is completed and then hold yourself to that communication.

  • Use the statement “tell me more” at the dinner table tonight with a family member

  • Engage the front desk staff to address the issue of patients forgetting to sign the bottom of the form at check-in. Empower them to own their work structure to find a solution rather than telling them what to do.


Want to learn more?

The trauma-informed decision making course through Empowered Care is a valuable resource for leaders in an organization to dig in deeper into this topic. Learn to tackle common, yet very difficult, situations in a manner that increases teamwork and decreases burnout for both the leader and employees. Diana also offers individual coaching to assist you to build confidence in utilizing trauma-informed leadership skills and make a plan for long-term implementation.







References


Shevrin Venet A. Equity-Centered Trauma-Informed Education. 1st ed. Routledge; 2023. 


Boudrias JS, Morin AJS, Brodeur MM. Role of psychological empowerment in the reduction of burnout in Canadian healthcare workers. Nursing & Health Sciences. 2012;14(1):8-17. doi:10.1111/j.1442-2018.2011.00650.x


Pearson B. How to Add More Human Connection to Your Teams, Your Culture, and Your Business. Harvard Business Review. Published online March 16, 2023. Accessed November 29, 2023. https://hbr.org/sponsored/2023/03/how-to-add-more-human-connection-to-your-teams-your-culture-and-your-business

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