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How to help yourself when you’re helping others

Employees who suffer workplace trauma need support, as do the people helping them through these events.

4 min read



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A colleague of mine recently attended an educational conference. She met a teacher during a session about working with students who have experienced trauma.

The teacher said that she knew how to help traumatized students but asked wonderingly, “How do I help me? You have to get into their lives in order to teach them. And their trauma is deep. It stays with you. So, here’s my question: After I go over the line to help them, who pulls me back?”

Sadly, traumatic situations do not only affect students and their teachers. Many working professionals have also experienced workplace trauma, which can be categorized as follows:

  • Stressful events (death, grief, suicide, accident or injury)
  • Organizational stressors (bullying, threats, harassment, betrayal, maliciousness, extreme isolation, chronic pressure, toxic work environment, uncertainty, fear for the future, downsizing or fear of unemployment)
  • Physical stressors (noise, chaotic environment, sense of no control over space, fear for physical safety, harsh or flashing lights, extremes of heat or cold, working amid construction)
  • External threats (evacuation, lockdown, fire or robbery)

According to a 2015 poll measuring the impact of traumatic workplace events, the top four workplace events that caused the most trauma, stress and anxiety are as follows (as quoted from the article):

  • Employer announcing layoffs/job losses (28%)
  • Workplace violence/criminal activity in the community (25%)
  • Death of a colleague/co-worker (19%)
  • Natural disaster impacting the workplace (14%)

The poll, commissioned by  Workplace Options, found that fewer than half (46%) of people experiencing an on-the-job traumatic incident were offered any type of employer support afterward. Such support, in the form of emotional support or counseling, would be welcomed by 67% of respondents.

Leaders who properly support their people not only help their workforce recover and bounce back quickly, but they also make a clear statement that says “at this company, our people come first.”

It may be easier said than done, but leaders who want to successfully and sustainably support their people must be able to keep themselves strong and fresh. They need to understand that they won’t be able to help others if they don’t help themselves while maintaining healthy boundaries.

We also need to recognize that we can’t do it alone. Sure, we may be well-trained and feel equipped. But in most cases, traumatic situations are too big and complex for a single person to handle independently.

Here are some things leaders can do to stay healthy, energized and properly buoyed so that they can be fully supportive of their employees’ needs.

  1. Develop a growth mindset. Our mindsets play a significant role in how situations affect us. If we view our roles more narrowly, as in instructional providers and facilitators, then we will feel drained when we extend beyond our comfort zones. Our fixed mentalities will convince us that we simply cannot go there. Leaders who embrace the “new normal” of leadership, however, will find ways to grow and start to view themselves as capable of properly dealing with it.
  2. Don’t take it personally. Employees who have experienced trauma aren’t trying to push your buttons. They are simply dealing with complicated situations and may not have the tools and bandwidth to do so in predictable and rational ways.
  3. Remind yourself of your impact, even when you can’t see it. Henry Adams once said, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” The same, to an extent, can be said for leaders. We simply cannot know the impact of our work while we are performing it.
  4. Disconnect. We all need personal time. As much as you want to help and be available, make sure to disconnect often so that that you can recharge and bring your best self to each situation.
  5. Prioritize your health. If we are unhealthy, how can we hope to help others get healthier and whole? Proper nutrition and ample sleep are absolutely critical to ensure that we stay well and remain the influencers we need to be.
  6. Get support. Make full use of counselors and other professionals whose role is to support you and your people. If you don’t have such professionals on staff, be proactive in connecting with and vetting some so that you can access their services as needed.  


Naphtali Hoff, PsyD, (@impactfulcoach) is president of Impactful Coaching & Consulting. Check out his leadership book, “Becoming the New Boss.” Read his blog, and listen to his leadership podcast. Download his free new e-book, “An E.P.I.C. Solution to Understaffing.”

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