I recently got to hear Diana Hendel speak about organizational trauma. She talks about a workplace shooting that took place at the hospital where she used to serve as CEO. After this happened, she became a student of organizational trauma. She published a book, Responsible: A Memoir, that dives deeper into the subject (that I’ve not read yet). And she expounds on those thoughts in a recent podcast with Quint Studer, The Busy Leader’s Podcast (Episode 6).
As a community (local or National), we’re dealing with COVID-19 and all the changes and economic pressures it has caused—and at the same time, we’re navigating other upheavals like massive advances in the use of artificial intelligence, political divisiveness, an increased focus on racial justice and diversity, and so forth. Alone each one of these is stressful. Combined, they go way beyond stressful. The intensity, frequency, and duration of the changes we’re facing are more akin to trauma.
Trauma is fundamentally different from stress. Stress upsets our balance in the moment, but we can get through it and move on with our lives. Trauma sends us into survival mode. It makes us feel that our life, or at least our livelihood, is threatened. It changes how we look at the world. We can feel hopeless. We can have new roles, new job duties, and a new way of doing things. With stress, there is a belief that things can get back to or close to normal. With trauma, there is the realization that it may never get back to what it was.
It is vital for the health of the individual, the company, and the community that trauma is identified and action taken. If unprocessed and untreated, trauma can be extremely harmful to all.
A few of her takeaways: treat trauma differently than stress, name the trauma, get familiar with the signs of trauma, know that under-treated trauma leads to polarization, and visible unifying leaders are vital.