Vicarious trauma is a silent psychosocial hazard that has given greater importance to an employer’s duty of care to protect and promote mental health and wellbeing at work. It has been well documented that individuals exposed to distressing events or content as a part of their role can be emotionally affected. The cumulative exposure to traumatic material can cause considerable stress and vicarious trauma risk. Within some industries, where workplaces can’t eliminate vicarious trauma, they must take reasonable steps to address, prevent, and manage the known risks for vicarious trauma that may arise from the nature of the work being undertaken by employees. Embedding and promoting a culture of psychological safety can be a critical protective factor in ameliorating and preventing vicarious trauma risks in the workplace.
Culture plays a vital role in protecting against vicarious trauma risk
- An organisational culture that acknowledges the negative impact of trauma work and the level their employees are exposed to can help determine the most appropriate actions to mitigate the risks to their mental health and wellbeing. This can inform psychological training, psychosocial education, peer support initiatives, and leadership-led interventions that work together to help employees deal with the potential risks of trauma work.
- Adopting a culture that recognises the existence and expression of vicarious trauma can play a crucial role in promoting greater employee mental health and wellbeing. This enables individuals to be more attuned to early warning signs, identify when they might be impacted, and know the importance of self-care and support.
- Research suggests that peer support contributes enormously to psychological wellbeing. Creating a workplace where informal peer-to-peer support is part of the culture can minimise the impact of vicarious trauma. These support systems can create a climate of trust where employees can willingly access support.
- Within certain industries, there are various misconceptions and sense of learned helplessness that vicarious trauma is inevitable or that high staff turnover is part of working within those industries. Organisational cultures, such as collective and normalised values, beliefs, assumptions, behaviours, and underlying expectations, are key factors in perpetuating or preventing the risk of vicarious trauma among employees.
Vicarious trauma risks and the ‘cost of caring for others’ are one of the most significant challenges employees face when working with traumatic events and material. For more information on embedding and promoting a culture of psychological safety to protect against vicarious trauma risk, reach out to the Centre for Corporate Health on 02 8243 1500 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.