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Unseen Wounds: Understanding the Relationship between Trauma & Burnout

Often described as "overwhelm" or "stress", trauma in organisations manifests as the cracks in the facade of "holding It all together". All too often organisations react to what appears to be a crisis or failure to meet Key Performance Indicators, by going into hyperdrive. This reaction is a well-known trauma response psychologists call HyperVigilence or OverFunctioning. Unfortunately, hyperdrive is a masked attempt, not only delaying responsiveness to the crisis, but exasserbating overwhelm which results in either a mass exodus of staff or negative sentiment override. Understanding the impact of trauma within organisations is not about uprooting the past, but honouring history to empower the future.

Defining Trauma in an Organizational Context

Within organisations, acknowledging trauma is the recognition of past influences on the individual. Certain subsets of the population are especially susceptible, though the AIHW suggest 70% of the Australian population are affected by trauma. At its core, trauma refers to any event or ongoing condition that overwhelms existing capacity or resourcing. Linked closely with shame, fear, anxiety and isolation, it is important to know that 'resourcing up' and 'expanding capacity' is far simpler ....and even more enjoyable...than you might think.

The Good News

The effects of trauma within organisations are experienced at the level of culture. Shifting the hold of trauma over our experiences, lightens the mood, lifts morale, invites employees to 'show-on up' and 'bring their best'. This is because acknowledgement feels so good to the human being that it builds trust, respect and loyalty, often resolving long-standing conflict spontaneously. Think about it...When was the last time you raised something important to you...maybe in a social setting....and it went un-noticed. Now think about a time that a colleague or supervisor responded to your idea with a simple acknowledgement. Even... "Nice"...."Sounds good"...."I like it". Acknowledgment is not a euphemism for pretending. Acknowledgement is the difference between ignored and seen....isolation and recognition. Acknowledging trauma connects us to each other as soft-bodied human beings.


For employees, unseen trauma can be akin to walking through a minefield of triggers and stressors. Even those who were not directly affected by a traumatic event may experience heightened anxiety, hypervigilance, or symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to our mirroring neuron's. Improved productivity is the first sign of trauma recovery. In the same way unresolved trauma will drag everyone in the organisation down, resolved trauma puts wind in everyone's sails.

Impact on Teams and Culture

The effects of trauma reverberate beyond individual experiences, permeating the very fabric of organizational culture. Trust, which forms the bedrock of effective teamwork, can quickly erode in the aftermath of trauma, leading to breakdowns in communication and collaboration. In such environments, innovation takes a backseat to survival as employees prioritize self-protection over creative risk-taking.

Leadership Challenge

Leaders within traumatized organizations face a unique set of challenges in navigating their teams through turbulent waters. Effective leadership in these contexts requires not only empathy and emotional intelligence but also a commitment to transparency and accountability. Failure to address trauma can result in a leadership vacuum, with employees feeling abandoned or betrayed by those in positions of authority.

Building Resilience and Healing

Healing from trauma is a multifaceted process that requires a consistent approach from all levels of the organization. This begins with acknowledging the reality of trauma and its impact on individuals and teams. Psychological and embodied strategies have shown to mitigate the isolation often associated with traumatic experiences.

Moreover, investing in trauma-informed policies and practices can help mitigate the risk of future harm while promoting a culture of resilience and well-being. This may include a collaborating with HR on existing projects, training in the cutting edge techniques to lift productivity, and measuring indicators which demonstrate less reactivity and more functionality in the workplace.

Trauma within the organisation is a

pervasive issue that can have profound implications for the health and effectiveness of teams and the overall culture of an organization. By recognizing the signs, understanding its impact, and taking proactive steps to promote healing and resilience, organizations can create environments where employees feel supported, empowered, and able to thrive even in the face of adversity.


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