Colorado Supreme Court
Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel
Promoting Professionalism. Protecting the Public.
Most of us recognize the physical and mental toll that stress and secondary trauma exposure takes, and we recognize the importance of self-care. During uncertain times like these, our need for resilience and positive coping strategies must become a priority to manage a health crisis, the resulting isolation, and a sense of unknown (for professionals and clients alike). It is during times of heightened stress that we can all become leaders helping our co-workers, colleagues, and employees experience a sense of thriving despite difficult times and develop a healthy “new normal.” As compassion fatigue expert Francoise Mathieu asserts, this type of resiliency is more involved than “kale and pedicures”.
Knowing this, how do we sustain as organizations, even from a remote work environment so we can provide services with integrity for our clients and communities? Taking a lead from Viktor Frankl, we can start at an organizational level by intentionally tending to our people, capitalizing on part 2 of Frankl’s logotherapy – relationships.
1) Know where YOU stand: Whether leading from a formal position of authority or one of influence, it starts at ground zero. Survey where you stand with your own resiliency and where you might be struggling. If needed, lead by example in speaking to a mental health professional, such as at COLAP, about working through areas where the cumulative toll of trauma and chronic stress are impacting your health and performance. Don’t suffer for the sake of “white knuckling it”.
Know where your people stand: Where is your company thriving and where is there room for improvements to wellbeing? When things get tough, is your company socially supportive, or do people deploy avoidance strategies?
TIP: REWARD the intrinsic behaviors, those led by internal motivators to support the company. Positive recognition is key to your people coming together and thriving in the face of trauma, but as Dr Patricia Fisher notes, it is “one of the first casualties of a stressed environment”. Employees will attrition less and engage more if they believe in your agency’s vision.
Communicating appreciation is key during a period of remote work. Checking-in on a more frequent basis when possible, acknowledging the adjustments, and laughing over the “little things” during meetings will help your staff and co-workers feel supported even if the current state of affairs is largely unknown. Your teams will appreciate your investment in their well-being, leading to increased loyalty. Cohesion in groups improves when they can look back on tough periods of time and remember how they pulled together, and how their leaders pulled through for them all.
2) What is your agency’s “Best Self”: What are your company’s “humble brags”? Do your brags resonate with your mission? Celebrating successes is key, BUT, a beneficial celebration should support, not detract from, your values. Focus on things that uplift (ie. the enhanced skillset an attorney gained from a difficult case) rather than on beating the competition or the other party “getting what they deserved”.
3) Don’t “go it alone”: It is normal to want to isolate under chronic stress and trauma exposure, but it isn’t helpful in the long run. In Dare to Lead, Brene Brown attacks the myth of going it alone: “… we are a social species. In the absence of authentic connection, we suffer. And by authentic I mean the kind of connection that doesn’t require hustling for acceptance and changing who we are to fit in.”
TIP: Create a culture of not operating on an island that has buy-in from both introverts and extroverts. Prioritize socialization through use of technology during times of remote work.
· Engage seasoned practitioners in mentoring new professionals, or contact CAMP.
· Rather than specializing certain difficult/high trauma case types (which isolates and exposes a few seasoned individuals to particularly disturbing content for indefinite timeframes), share the load. Broaden your pool of experts and rotate seasoned and growing professionals every couple of years to regulate exposure levels.
· Intentionally model moments of vulnerability. As you learn to navigate the ups and downs of workspaces invading home life (and vice versa), share them in a lighthearted manner with your teams. That pet or child invading the team meeting can be just the laugher we all need. It also is a great opportunity to model adapting on the fly (ok – I need to play with the kids BEFORE the big meeting starts to wear them out a bit) and shows that leaders are a human just like the rest of us!
For more on organizational wellbeing in trauma exposed environments, or support adjusting to the current pandemic, contact COLAP at 303-986-3345.