The past year and a half have surfaced deep and ongoing struggles against racism and racial violence, and it is imperative to acknowledge the impact that it has had on all of us, especially those who have experienced racial trauma first hand. Even so, racial trauma can be caused by both direct or indirect exposure to discrimination, either when a person experiences personal discrimination, or when a person witnesses discrimination happening to someone like them. This is a challenging topic to navigate, especially within the workplace. Employers and teammates can all play a role in supporting one another. To help steer leaders in the right direction, Spring Health has developed a guide to help employers understand the causes of racial trauma, how it can present itself and ways that leaders can support their teams through these events.
According to Spring Health, racial trauma can present itself in many forms, with symptoms very similar to those experienced by individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) including chronic stress, hypervigilance, avoidance, depression, anxiety and distressing flashbacks.
Employees who are experiencing racial trauma are seeking support, empathy, and a reminder that they are not alone, even if they are reluctant to speak about their mental health. While addressing racial violence may feel overwhelming, and may be accompanied by concern of not saying or doing the right thing, effective allyship begins with speaking up, because acknowledging the events is better than silence. Here some practical strategies offered by Spring Health to consider in support of your employees:
1.Acknowledge that racism impacts team members emotionally, mentally, and physically. It seems simple, but it starts with acknowledgement of the issues at hand. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) advises that companies develop a formal statement on racial injustice and inequality to signal to current and future employees that the company is aware of the problem of systemic racism.
2. Let individuals decide if or when they want to talk. Don’t force participation. Some may not feel comfortable discussing their experiences with racial trauma at work, and that’s ok.
3. Host community sessions with impacted groups and allies. These sessions can take many forms, but providing a safe space for individuals to share their experiences with others can help to foster a sense of community while laying the groundwork for healing.
4. Partner with outside experts to lead discussions on racial issues for those who want to join. Clinical experts who specialize in racial issues and trauma may be particularly helpful, especially when it comes to hosting community sessions like those mentioned above.
5.Encourage mental health breaks. Allowing flexible working hours and the ability to take time off may provide individuals with the space they need to heal.
6. Create employee-resource groups to improve working conditions for employees of certain backgrounds to help foster a sense of support and community within the workplace.
7. Ask employees what it is they want and need for healing, but don’t expect those who are experiencing racial trauma to be the ones to make those things happen. Instead, empower allies to take action. Allies can show support, help develop policies, and educate others, so those who are experiencing trauma don’t feel they must play the role of racial ambassador.
To learn more about the causes of racial trauma, the ways in which racial trauma can present itself at home or in the workplace and practical ways that leaders can support their teams in the face of racial violence, download the guide from Spring Health.