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Managing trauma in the workplace

Managing trauma in the workplace

A medium sized company experienced an accident in the workplace whereby a number of employees witnessed a traumatic incident causing them to struggle returning to that place of work. They experienced symptoms of trauma including flashbacks, poor concentration, increased irritability, disturbed sleep and fear of returning to their place of work. The Human Resource Director contacted Working Minds UK to ask for help in managing the situation from a mental health perspective.


The incident was a week earlier and twelve members of staff were working in the area at the time. Nine members of staff returned to work and three took sickness-absence saying that they could no longer work in the area the accident occurred in. The management team were unsure how to best support both their staff off work as well as those who were struggling at work.

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The Problem

The three staff off sick were experiencing a variety of symptoms including flashbacks to the event, negative thoughts over their future at work and worry about it happening again. They were experiencing sleep disturbance, poor concentration and short-term memory, anger and irritability.

The staff who were at work were experiencing mixed emotions including fear, apprehension and anger. The management team were anxious as to how best support the staff at work and help the staff off work return to the workplace without causing them harm.

Knowing that my symptoms were normal helped me to move forward

The Solution

Two consultants from Working Minds UK attended a meeting at the company and spoke with the Human Resource Director and their team including occupational health and representatives from the management team.

Factors identified

  1. The management team were anxious and fearful over causing harm to their staff.
  2. The staff who were at work had lost their confidence and trust in the workplace and were experiencing generalised anxiety including thoughts and feelings of wanting to avoid going to work.
  3. The staff who were off work were experiencing initial symptoms of trauma response.

The above issues were focused on in a structured and strategic manner using evidence based support and treatment for all involved:

  1. The management team received an educational session on trauma response and understood that their staff’s response was actually normal given the type of event that had occurred. They understood the symptoms and realised that the drive to avoid situations was actually normal and rather than not address this, they needed to support their staff in gradually facing their fears. A graded exposure/return to work strategy (see Self Help PDF section) was planned by the management team with support from Working Minds UK.
  2. Working Minds UK consultants met with the staff who had returned to work as a group to provide a psycho-education session as in line with clinical guidelines (NICE Guidelines, Dept of Health), to reduce their anxieties and fears over their symptoms, to realise the negative role avoidance will play in being a barrier to recovery and to identify strategies to promote their own well-being (reduction in alcohol, and the positive role of exercise and social contact).
  3. Working Minds UK consultants arranged individual psycho-educational sessions with the staff that were off work providing an assessment and treatment plan as above in stage 2 but with an emphasis on avoidance of the trauma trigger (sickness-absence). They also wrote to their GPs and liaised with occupational health to ensure a team approach was maintained. In all cases, literature on managing trauma was given to the staff (see Self Help PDF section).


Following the three stages of intervention the management team were able to plan and implement a safe, structured and supported return to work strategy for the staff off sick. The staff at work were given support and encouraged to seek help should they feel they need it to act as an early intervention strategy and prevent mental health problems arising. The staff off-work were offered individually tailored return to work plans allowing for their anxiety to reduce whilst gradually exposing them to their fears. Eventually, helping them learn that actually the workplace environment was safe, their symptoms were normal given the event they experienced and they could manage the symptoms appropriately using strategies discussed in the one-to-on psycho-education CBT session.

Working Minds UK consultants stayed in contact with the organisation through feedback from the occupational health department and offered early rapid intervention should it be necessary.

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