Supporting Employees with PTSD

What is PTSD?

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can cause significant distress and impairment to one’s ability to function in everyday life. It is typically triggered by a traumatic event or experience, such as witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event, like a natural disaster, physical assault, or violent death. People with PTSD often have persistent and intrusive memories of their experiences that may cause them to have intense fear, avoidance of memories associated with the event, feeling detached from loved ones and friends, difficulty sleeping and concentrating, irritability or anger outbursts. 

It’s important for employers to be aware of the signs of PTSD so they can provide support to their employees who may be struggling.


Common symptoms include: flashbacks, where the individual relives the traumatic experience; nightmares; avoidance of anything that reminds them of the event; emotional numbing where they are unable to feel pleasure in activities they used to enjoy; physical symptoms such as increased heart rate or sweating when exposed to triggers related to their trauma; hypervigilance or always feeling on edge; irritability or outbursts of anger and difficulty sleeping.  

Employers need to be aware of potential triggers within the workplace that can lead to an exacerbation of symptoms. These triggers may be environmental, stress and anxiety such as due to presentations, or relational triggers such as confrontation. They should also learn how best to approach and support the individual. 

Employers need not only understand what PTSD is but also appreciate how different people react differently when faced with similar experiences. It’s therefore important for employers to create an environment which allows employees with PTSD feel safe enough to discuss their needs within the workplace, and create wellbeing plans specifically for each individual. 

At its most basic level, anxiety is the body’s response to stress. When a person perceives danger or feels out of control, the body responds by releasing stress hormones including cortisol and adrenaline into the bloodstream. This triggers certain physical and psychological reactions including increased heart rate, restlessness, difficulty concentrating and muscle tension.

How does PTSD Impact an Individual?

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can significantly impact mental and physical health. Employees with PTSD require compassion, understanding and support to thrive in the workplace, and to reduce the likelihood of work adding to their difficulties, and impacting their overall quality of life. Below are some of the most common ways in which PTSD impacts individuals: 

Emotional distress: Those living with PTSD can experience heightened and unpredictable emotions that feel difficult to control, such as feelings of sadness, anger, fear, guilt, and shame. 

Mental health problems: Individuals with PTSD may suffer from depression, anxiety, substance abuse issues and eating disorders. They can feel overwhelmed by with everyday tasks, and experience hopelessness and suicidal thoughts. 

Physical changes: PTSD can lead to palpitations, high blood pressure, fatigue and insomnia. Headaches, digestive issues, muscle tension and chronic pain are also common. 

Cognitive impairments: People suffering from PTSD might have difficulties with memory recall or problem solving. They may also find it hard to focus on tasks for extended periods of time and may struggle with making decisions.  

Social withdrawal: Individuals living with PTSD may withdraw from social activities such as going out with friends or taking part in hobbies they once enjoyed. They may also feel disconnected from family members which further increases feelings of loneliness and isolation.  

Managers who are supporting employees with PTSD need to be aware of potential challenges they may face, so as to be able to offer support. This could include support to manage stress levels at work, time off to attend appointments, and environmental adjustments. 

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How PTSD May Impact Performance at Work

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can significantly impact an employee’s performance at work. It can disrupt normal activities, diminish motivation, and impair decision making. Symptoms such as intrusive thoughts, flashbacks and anxiety can be particularly difficult to manage in the workplace.  

Within the workplace, PTSD can decrease productivity, lower energy, impact concentration, absenteeism, and increase irritability with colleagues or customers. Employees may encounter difficulties with social interactions and may struggle to maintain healthy lifestyle habits such as sleeping well or eating nutritious meals, which can further exacerbate existing symptoms of PTSD.  

Employers should be aware that these issues may arise for staff with PTSD. They should consider providing specialist training for managers to help them to support team members with PTSD. Organisations should also invest in initiatives which prevent burnout in all employees, such as by introducing training, flexible working, team mindfulness, promoting physical exercise and social activities outside of work as just a few examples.  

It is important for employers to recognise the potential impacts of PTSD on workers’ performance at work so they offer appropriate support to empower individuals and help them to function and thrive. Long term, this will benefit both individuals and the business.

What is Post-Traumatic Growth?

Post-traumatic growth is a positive psychological response to traumatic life events. It refers to the dynamic process of an individual developing in positive ways following the experience of a traumatic event. People who have experienced trauma often report feeling stronger and more resilient than before, as well as increased appreciation for life, greater appreciation for relationships, and a greater sense of self-confidence.  

The concept of post-traumatic growth was first introduced by psychologists Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun in the mid 1990s with their research into how people respond to traumatic events. At its core, post-traumatic growth is about individuals’ resilience in the face of adversity, allowing them to move forward with strength and courage.  

While experiencing a traumatic event can be overwhelming and life-changing, a number of factors can increase the likelihood of experiencing post-traumatic growth. These include receiving emotional support from friends, colleagues and family as well as mental health professionals; having their experiences validated and their responses normalised, and within work, feeling supported to create a working environment that feels safe, flexible working arrangements; and providing training in stress and PTSD to increase the likelihood of feeling supported by colleagues.  

Post-traumatic growth is an important concept for businesses to understand when it comes to supporting employees with PTSD. Not only can employers play an important role in helping employees cope with trauma, but they can also help facilitate positive growth from these experiences by creating an atmosphere conducive to healing and resilience. 

Supporting Employees with PTSD

It is essential for businesses to understand how to support employees with PTSD to ensure their mental wellbeing and help them succeed at work.  

Here are some tips for supporting employees with PTSD in the workplace:  

  • Acknowledge feelings of distress: Employees with PTSD may struggle to communicate their feelings of distress, so it is important for employers to be aware of signs such as difficulty concentrating, changes in behaviour and mood swings. Acknowledging these feelings and normalising them can help employees feel heard and supported. 
  • Offer flexibility: Adjustments such as flexible deadlines, working hours or duties may help ease any additional stress associated with the job role. Flexible working options can also be beneficial if the employee needs to attend appointments. 
  • Create a supportive environment: Creating an environment where employees feel comfortable talking about their emotional struggles and seeking help when needed is vital for managing PTSD effectively in the workplace. Wellbeing supervisions and open communication with line managers can make all the difference in terms of creating a supportive atmosphere. 
  • Be patient: Recovery from PTSD takes time, and having patience with an employee’s recovery is key to supporting them on their journey towards healing. 
  • Develop a wellbeing plan: Co-creating wellbeing plans that outline reasonable expectations for performance and behaviour can be very helpful in terms of managing job requirements more effectively. Regularly reviewing this can ensure employees are not feeling overwhelmed by their workload, or bored and underwhelmed.

Supporting employees with PTSD requires understanding, compassion, patience and the ability to create a supportive environment within the workplace – all integral components in ensuring everyone’s mental wellbeing is taken care of at work.  

Environmental Adaptations for Employees with PTSD

Employees with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can face unique challenges in the workplace. In order to ensure that these individuals are properly supported, it is important for employers to understand how best to create an environment that meets the needs of those living with PTSD.  

These can range from small changes, such as creating a designated quiet space, to bigger modifications, such as giving employees more control over their working environments and allowing flexible working hours.  

Creating a designated quiet space can be beneficial for employees who benefit from a break during stressful situations or who need some time away from environmental stimulation.  

Offering a quiet working space away from any loud noises such as due to operating machinery, seating closer to windows with natural light and views of outdoors and opportunity to spend time outdoors, can all support individuals with PTSD. 

Flexible working arrangements are also key when managing employees with PTSD. This means allowing them to take extra days off if needed, work from home on certain days or vary starting and finishing times based on their individual needs. Allowing individuals control over their own work schedules often helps reduce stress levels while ensuring that job performance remains consistent.  

It may also be beneficial to provide employees with additional training on how to manage stress and different techniques they can use when feeling overwhelmed. This could involve providing access to online resources or inviting experts into the workplace to deliver mental health awareness sessions and provide coping strategies tailored specifically for those with PTSD.  

Regular check-ins can help build trust between employer and employee and allow any concerns relating to mental health issues or job performance be addressed quickly and efficiently before they become serious problems.  

By taking these simple steps, employers are able to create an environment which supports employees with PTSD.  

Reasonable Adjustments for Employees with PTSD

Employers are obligated to provide reasonable workplace adjustments to ensure the health and wellbeing of affected employees. Here are some practical ways that employers can support workers suffering from PTSD:  

  1. Developing an Individual Support Plan: Employers should create a bespoke plan based on each employee’s needs to ensure that the support provided is tailored to promote their long-term wellbeing. The plan should include a review date, as well as detailed information on how best to manage their symptoms.
  2. Allowing Flexible Working: Offering flexible working hours and days can have a positive impact on employees with PTSD, as it allows them more control over their schedule and lessens the pressure of strict timetables. This could include offering part-time work or allowing employees to work at times when they feel most productive and comfortable. 
  3. Setting Ground Rules: In order for reasonable adjustments to be effective, it is important that clear boundaries are set out in terms of behaviour and expectations within the workplace. This will help to create an environment where everyone feels safe, respected and accepted regardless of any mental health difficulties they may be facing. 
  4. Providing Time off Work: It is important for employees with PTSD to be able to take regular breaks throughout the day, such as taking time off for doctor’s appointments or sessions with specialist therapists. Employers should allow sufficient time off work if necessary in order for the employee’s condition not to worsen due to stress or exhaustion caused by their workload. 
  5. Creating Distractions: Encouraging activities such as puzzles, books or mindfulness exercises can help distract workers from any unsettling thoughts or sensations they may be experiencing due to their PTSD symptoms, and provide them with a calming outlet during stressful moments at work.

Making these simple changes in the workplace can go a long way in ensuring that employees with PTSD feel supported and comfortable enough to perform their duties effectively without added pressures from their environment or colleagues negatively impacting their recovery journey. By providing those affected by this disorder with reasonable adjustments, employers can demonstrate care and understanding towards those living with mental health difficulties while also promoting greater inclusion in the workplace overall. 

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