The Understanding Approach

November 01, 2019
Conflict Management
Engagement & Retention
Health & Wellness
Performance Management
Read time: 2 mins

This week, MRA welcomed 90 people to the Creating Workforce Resilience Event: A Trauma-Informed Approach to Creating Workforce Resilience.

The morning started by learning about the need for employers to be aware of how childhood traumas, or Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), can manifest themselves in their workers. This way of thinking is so important for employees (and organizations) to transform into a more resilient workplace.

Sadly, ACEs are common. They involve:

  • Emotional abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional neglect
  • Physical neglect
  • Divorce/separation
  • Domestic violence
  • Alcohol/drug problem
  • Mental illness
  • Incarceration


Chances are employers won’t know (and shouldn’t ask!) about childhood traumas their employees have suffered. But, being aware of how ACEs impact employees can open the door to a better understanding of how people work.

Think about your employees’ less than stellar behaviors – how do you perceive them? For example, let’s say you have an employee who is starting to show up late to work on a consistent basis. There’s a good chance this can annoy, frustrate, even anger you at times. However, if employers approached this issue through a trauma-informed lens, things would look rather different. Perhaps this employee is overwhelmed at home with financial concerns, a divorce, taking care of sick parents. These distractions may be making it harder to get to work on time. Instead of viewing this employee as “lazy”, we could view the situation as an employee feeling “helpless” and in need of support.

Check out this information from event speaker Tim Grove, MSSW, Senior Consultant at SaintA, (a human services agency in Milwaukee, WI, providing innovative, family-centered, trauma informed care). Grove expressed that looking at situations differently can help manage employees’ issues in a more positive way.


Traditional View       Trauma Informed View
Non-compliant, disrespectful Scared, seeking control
Lazy Feels helpless
Uncaring, disengaged Overwhelmed, disenfranchised
Manipulative Seeking to get needs met
Angry Survival adaption
Delayed/ "slow" Dissociative
System distrust Historical trauma

 The fact is that employees bring their whole selves to work every day. That includes all of the good - and the bad - that they’ve experienced.

If employers are able to truly listen to their people, be more open and understanding of questionable behaviors (even when not knowing any specifics), and build quality relationships with their staff, they will find so much good comes from their efforts. Things like happier workers, better retention rates, an improved culture... and a more resilient workforce. Not to mention it’s just the right thing to do.