Life's lessons: trauma as managerial growth

There are many ways in which an individual might suffer during the course of their personal lives and the difficulties that someone faces undoubtedly impacts their mental health at work. This ‘suffering overspill’ can have significant psychological, emotional and interpersonal implications for individuals at work, yet employers appear to know little about how to respond. Working people spend as much time with their colleagues as they do with family members, therefore the way in which employers respond to employee trauma is instrumental in helping individuals to heal when back at work.

This doctoral research found that despite their suffering, individuals who had experienced critical illness or bereavement described their traumas as helping them to becoming better managers as a result. However, the research argues that to draw learning from trauma is difficult, since personal experiences are often hidden from work when the status quo in organisations is one in which feelings are not openly shown or shared. By encouraging organisations to foster cultures of compassion, the research argues that organisations help to ensure healthier environments in which mental health issues can be openly discussed. There are also some important practical implications to emerge from this research for line managers, HR professionals and colleagues working alongside those who are experiencing personal trauma and its consequent 'suffering overspill' at work.