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Hybrid Scheduling as a Trauma-Informed Employment Practice

Dec 05, 2023

by Barrett Marshall, Esq., Senior Consultant

The concept of trauma has become prevalent in mainstream discussions. Now, more than ever before, people use language and frameworks once exclusive to mental health professionals. One only needs to scroll social media platforms to encounter “content warnings,” discussions of being “triggered,” or advice on self-care and burnout. Have we suddenly become more traumatized?

The reality is that many more of us are grappling with trauma or post-traumatic responses than ever before. Due to COVID-19, we have seen a global increase in the number of people exhibiting depressive symptoms by 28% and anxiety disorders by 25%.[i] The escalating rates of anxiety and depression are genuine, and the underlying causes of these challenges are not imaginary. With violence, poverty, and climate crisis reported from all news sources, it’s crucial to understand that we are no longer the same as we once were. We are continuously confronted by new and diverse forms of danger, inundated by the media with bad news. Each day, we face our own traumatic crises and are reminded of tragic circumstances worldwide.

The human nervous system adapts to traumatic experiences in a myriad of ways, many of them transformative.[ii] Certain experiences lead to involuntary responses aligning with individual crisis adaptations. Especially for those confined to their homes during COVID, the workplace no longer has clear cut boundaries separating it from home life.

This isn’t to suggest that the workplace is the appropriate setting for processing trauma. On the contrary, creating an environment empowering individuals to address their needs while fulfilling their job responsibilities is essential. So, if counseling our teams isn’t the solution, how can we incorporate trauma-informed practices into the workplace?

Trauma-informed supervision of employees should establish a foundation for co-creating need-responsive solutions. To achieve this, flexibility of approach, forecasting with supervisees, and empowering individuals to regulate themselves for their well-being are critical. Coupled with positive communication practices, these circumstances enable employees to develop sustainable work practices, combatting burnout with personalized solutions. It encourages them to devise these solutions while maintaining performance expectations in their roles.

Each employee has a unique relationship with their work environment. Supervisors must facilitate meaningful decision-making and envision work environments supporting successful employees. Trauma-informed principles can be integrated into all supervision considerations, creating a global practice resulting in a responsive and inclusive team culture.

While not every employee brings specific trauma experiences to work, many do, and all benefit from an individualized approach to supervision and support. The primary supervisory competence is flexibility. Recognizing employees’ differences and maximizing their contributions by attending to them as individuals is a necessity in our modern workplaces. In addition to tailored solutions’ positive effects, modeling intellectual flexibility for supervisees supports them in their work.

Meeting employees where they are is important in supervision, but supervisors also hold team members accountable. Accountability starts with setting appropriate, professional expectations regarding timelines, assignments, meeting culture, or any work aspect impacting an employee’s experience. These expectations are set through forecasting. Trauma-informed practice employs forecasting to provide individuals with information well in advance of any engagement. Properly forecasted situations empower employees to navigate challenges before they arise.

Ultimately, a trauma-informed supervisor empowers employees to regulate their workplace experience. This doesn’t mean employees dictate all conditions, but it encourages self-awareness and agency over their needs and work responsibilities.

A primary example of trauma-informed supervision in action is hybrid scheduling. To determine if a hybrid schedule will function, understanding responsibilities and employee needs is vital. Supervisors must recognize the power imbalance and maintain an open mind to facilitate honest conversations about employee needs and responsibilities.

Besides mental flexibility, managers must predict circumstances and expectations for employees. Clear communication about non-negotiables and openness to creative problem-solving fosters a collaborative dialogue. Supervisors must express their expectations clearly to encourage reciprocal accountability.

Once the most helpful approach and specific expectations are established, a hybrid schedule meeting employees’ needs can be created. At this point, employees must take ownership, regulating their own experience with sustainable productivity and well-being. Trauma-informed principles empower individuals to make decisions based on their surroundings and responses rather than relying solely on traumatic reactions. Similarly, a hybrid schedule should regulate the employee experience, preventing stress and burnout reactivity. Granting scheduling authority to the supervisee allows them to take responsibility for their role, enhancing their investment in their work.

Hybrid scheduling presents challenges, but practicing flexibility, forecasting, and empowerment fosters meaningful and productive dialogues. Utilizing trauma-informed principles aids in discovering the best schedule for each supervisee, empowering them to manage their responsibilities and well-being effectively.

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