Security teams of all sectors face incidents of violence, anxiety, escalation and trauma during their careers. For a security leader, fostering a healthy workplace environment following trauma or helping managers and frontline security personnel navigate such incidents is particularly essential to healing, reducing turnover, and allowing everyone in the workplace to feel heard, respected and confident.
And, one may argue, a security leader’s job goes beyond his or her own team. Mental health crises and traumatic incidents can negatively affect not only the environment and employee satisfaction within an organization, but the safety and security within the organization as well (think insider risk, workplace violence, etc.).
“Trauma affects every aspect of our job functioning,” says victim’s expert and author of “The Empathetic Workplace,” Katharine Manning. Manning spent more than 15 years advising the Department of Justice on victim’s issues, including terrorism, child exploitation and large-scale financial fraud. “Trauma shows up in shorter tempers and other communication problems, an inability to concentrate, forgetfulness, missed deadlines, high absenteeism and turnover.”
She says that studies show depression interferes with a person’s ability to complete physical job tasks by 20% and reduces cognitive performance by 35%, while anxiety also affects productivity, work relationships, job satisfaction and, again, turnover. “The past year has had a huge effect on mental health, of course. Depression and anxiety rates have tripled during the pandemic,” she says.
Making sure employees know about an organization’s policies and resources that promote good health — such as domestic violence victim policies, leave of absences, and EAP or other mental health support programs — is essential to helping employees cope with crises, Manning shares.
Another critical component to fostering a healthy workplace environment after any traumatic event is being a leader that is willing to get uncomfortable.
“In times of crises, we look to our leaders to support and guide us. When leaders are willing to address challenges with honesty, it models resilience and integrity. The military calls this ‘grief leadership’ — the power of a leader in times of crisis to inspire a team to come together by expressing their emotions in a healthy and appropriate way,” Manning says. “When leaders demonstrate that they themselves can be vulnerable and struggle, that shows the team that it’s OK to admit that you’re having a hard time — which is the first step to healing.”
Additionally, Manning says that it’s imperative that security leaders and all leaders within the organization understand that feelings are contagious and trauma can affect other employees within the organization, including the manager or leader themselves. “If someone starts yelling, I’m going to get anxious. If I’m surrounded by those in crises repeatedly, it may be harder and harder for me to calm down and it will eventually affect my productivity, my relationships, and my mental and physical health,” she says.
Learning to be able to take care of yourself first is a lesson that all employees can learn from. Being a constant sounding board for others working through trauma can lead to compassion fatigue and affect your productivity and leadership response just as much as first-hand trauma. Taking care of yourself in whatever way helps you reset, whether that be a simple walk, journaling, playing the piano, meditating or going to therapy, can ensure you are ready to tackle the difficulties that your team is presented with. “We cannot do what we need to do to support others if we are not taking care of ourselves,” Manning says.