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November 30, 2021

Does Trauma Informed Practice require high staff engagement?

Does Trauma Informed Practice require high staff engagement?

In answering this question let’s start from a realistic standpoint.

It’s rare enough to meet a service that has a 100% engaged staff team [1] .Considering the pressures of the last few years with staff being more stressed than ever before (2), it’s only natural that some staff will be struggling with motivation at work or feeling burnout. Even the most dedicated workers will occasionally need to step back and deal with burnout. Research often places the levels of staff disengagement at between 30% and 80% (1, 2). So a better question may be how many staff can be disengaged before the organisation cannot attain its goals in being a trauma informed organisation - before service users bear the brunt of an unhappy staff team.

To answer this let’s look at some of the features of engagement, that also coincide with the qualities of a trauma informed team. This is an exercise our staff team recently took on. The findings were that there is an almost complete crossover. Disengagement is explained by Kahn as the uncoupling of their send self from their role “people’s behaviours display an evacuation or suppression of their expressive and energetic selves”. (3).[2] It’s exactly this expressive and energetic self that helps us most effectively connect with others. Engaged staff feel energised by work, feel an emotional connection to what they do and go the extra mile.

Engaged Staff feel energised by work, feel an emotional connection to what they do, and go the extra mile.

At its a virtuous circle is is created [3] where staff derive meaning and purpose from what they do and because of this they bring their full selves to the fulfilment of these work goals - being creative and present. This virtuous circle can be the crux of a resilient trauma informed team with each team member supporting others to connect to the purpose and manage difficult situations. If you think of the best team in your work experience to date, it probably closely resembles this pattern. However this cycle is rarely self-sustaining without some careful shepherding from leaders. A variety of factors will upset this virtuous circle and send it spinning in the other direction. Most commonly – overwork, lack of role clarity, a lack of feedback, conflict in teams, not enough focus on the meaning and purpose. If management know these are an issue, they can be mitigated.

From working with 100’s of social service providers [4], starting and then maintaining this virtuous circle is key to creating a team that can engage effectively with ideas around trauma informed practice (TIP).  Managers need to create the scaffolding to support this upward trajectory and to identify and resolve any issues applying downward pressure. This requires regular communication - both informally and formally. To help we have developed a validated and benchmarked Staff Engagement tool for the Irish not for profit sector (see www.qualitymatter.ie/engagement). We are now adding an additional and optional Trauma Informed measure. Learning to date from research (4, 5) and our experience: engagement matters to TIP and measuring it and working on one improvement at a time, can have a huge impact.

Starting and then maintaining this virtuous circle is key to creating a team that can engage effectively with ideas around trauma informed practice (TIP).  Managers need to create the scaffolding to support this upward trajectory and to identify and resolve any issues applying downward pressure. This requires regular communication - both informally and formally.

In June and July, to help us grow develop the benchmark, we are offering 50% discount on the engagement tool. We’d love to see more services starting to measure and make the often small changes that make such a large difference.[5]

Want to read more?

We made you a short guide: Click here. If you would like to find out more please email philip@qualitymatters.ie.

References

(1) https://aon.mediaroom.com/news-releases?item=137558#:~:text=According%20to%20Aon%20Hewitt's%20analysis,39%20percent%20are%20moderately%20engaged.

(2) https://www.gallup.com/workplace/349484/state-of-the-global-workplace.aspx

(3) Kahn WA. Psychological Conditions of Personal Engagement and Disengagement at Work. The Academy of Management Journal. 1990;33(4):692–724.

(4) Laura J. Elwyn, Nina Esaki & Carolyn A. Smith (2017) Importance of Leadership and Employee Engagement in Trauma-Informed Organizational Change at a Girls’ Juvenile Justice Facility, Human Service Organizations: Management, Leadership & Governance, 41:2, 106-118, DOI: 10.1080/23303131.2016.12005065)

(5) J.Schimmels, L.Cunningham, “How Do We Move Forward With Trauma-Informed Care?”. The Journal for Nurse Practitioners, Volume 17, Issue 4, 2021, Pages 405-411, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nurpra.2020.12.005.

The thread connecting Caroline's 20+ year's experience in Not for Profit management and consultancy, is helping frontline services be as accessible and effective as possible. 'TIP is the most impactful means I’ve ever seen of improving culture and connecting people to a communal and concrete idea of what good is’'. Caroline, CEO of Quality Matters, has qualifications in sociology and community development and SROI, her role in TIP is Programme Management and Implementation.
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