On July 21, 2022, SGO DEI facilitator Rachel Sadler and SGO Co-CEO Felicia Jadczak sat down with Dr. Huong Diep to talk about the impact of workplace trauma. We discussed what causes workplace trauma, trauma responses, processing past trauma, and creating supportive, trauma-informed office practices. Follow us on LinkedIn for more interviews and conversations with brilliant folks like Dr. Diep!
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Felicia: Yeah. All right. I'm so pleased to be here today with both of you for this conversation on workplace trauma. So, I'd like to get things kicked off. My name is Felicia. I use she/her pronouns and I'm one of the co-founders and co-CEOs of She+ Geeks Out. I'm really thrilled to be joined here today by both my colleague, Rachel Sadler, and our special guest of honor, Dr. Huong Diep, who is a bilingual English and Spanish Board Certified Psychologist.
We have had many different conversations over the years, mostly through our podcast. So, this is a little bit of a departure for us, but I'm really thrilled to get another chance to chat with you. Dr. Diep graduated from UCLA and the University of Denver with an emphasis in international disaster psychology, and is a psychologist who specializes in global mental health, utilizing a culturally sensitive trauma-informed model that promotes strength and resiliency. Dr. Diep also served as a Peace Corps volunteer, has lived, worked and traveled to many different countries and is really passionate about topics that are very near and dear to our own heart, namely the intersectionality of gender, language and culture. And Dr. Diep provides culturally-informed, gender-affirming care to the BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities. So I'm joined by Rachel on my team. And so Rachel, why don't you go ahead and quickly introduce yourself and then we'll just jump right on into it.
Rachel S: Sure. Thanks. So again, my name is Rachel Sadler. I use she/her pronouns. I'm one of the DEI facilitators here at She+ Geeks Out. And really interested just to get this conversation started about workplace trauma and PTSD. So, kind of let's start there. When you think of PTSD, a lot of people think of people that have been in combat, but we've been hearing that term used in relation to workplace a lot lately. So Dr. Diep, if you could talk to us about what PTSD is and also how are we defining trauma in this context?
Huong: Yeah. So big questions. So let me kind of just break it down a little bit in terms of let's just talk about trauma. So, because I think that especially with social media, which is great, I love all the TikTok, Instagram therapists out there. But in some ways I think some folks are overusing the term trauma or triggers or whatnot. So, trauma is just any event that can happen to us that involves actual or threatened death, serious injury and sexual violence, any event that is intense enough that it can overwhelm our ability to cope, right? And that we all, most of us, will experience at least one, if not more traumatic events in our life. But it doesn't always necessarily equal to PTSD. Right?
So, PTSD is post-traumatic stress disorder. And that definitely, we have heard that in the vernacular, in our military community and a lot of research goes into providing support obviously for the brave folks who serve in the military. But that PTSD is something that not everyone who experiences a trauma or a traumatic event is going to experience PTSD. And that PTSD is a cluster of symptoms, right? That after a traumatic event, that some folks can develop where like let's say a life threatening event, such as for military folks combat, a natural disaster, a car accident.
So that usually, right, that it's quite normal to have an upsetting, to feel upset, have upsetting memories, to feel on edge or have difficult to sleeping after such an event. But if the symptoms continue to last for more than a few months, it could be PTSD and that would require an official diagnosis from a therapist or whatnot.
Felicia: You touched on, both of you actually touched on something which I'm curious to dig into a little bit further, which is sort of this alignment of trauma discussion and PTSD discussion primarily with sort of military experiences or military folks, veterans, people who are active members of the services, things like that. And I'm curious because both of you sort of mentioned other folks who could potentially be experiencing trauma and PTSD. And we know of course it's not limited to just the military, but in your, I guess, experience, have you been seeing other areas that are kind of coming up in terms of folks who are experiencing these things more and more?
Or I feel like there's just been so much more conversation around these topics lately. So, maybe it's just more people are realizing that it's not limited just to a military experience in terms of how people are feeling.
Huong: Definitely. I think we can all say that those last two and a half-ish years has been a global trauma, right? With the global pandemic and that we all have reacted very differently, right, to the COVID-19 pandemic. And I think if we were to go all the way back to childhood trauma, right, or even to, if you want to go even all the way back kind of trauma in the womb and if the mother is experiencing any kind of trauma or stress while pregnant with the child. But I don't know if you all have heard of the ACE Survey, the Adverse Childhood Experiences Survey.
So, it's a list of different questions to ask about early childhood trauma. And it's a longitudinal study that shows a correlation between those who experience, if you have a score of four or more, and we can link to the ACE Survey and the questionnaires, that a score of four or higher, that you have a higher likelihood of experiencing difficulty in terms of with mental and physical health later on.
So, we know that any early childhood trauma is going to potentially impact our neurobiology. And then you add in other trauma, such as racial trauma, gender trauma, queer, identifying as any marginalized member of a community, then we have what we're going to talk about today is like workplace trauma, right?
And that we know that the workplace has changed so much and especially with the pandemic and always being on and Zoom fatigue, whatnot. So, I think that more and more folks are realizing that trauma is just any time that we have perceived something in our life to be something unexpected, something that we're unprepared for, something that was uncontrollable or something that maybe was related to a childhood event that can be re-triggering of our childhood traumas.
Rachel S: Yeah. Thanks for bringing that up. You know we studied ACEs and the educational space work with certain students, right, and how they show up in the classroom. And I'm interested in learning about how this shows up for folks at work. So, what kinds of experiences could possibly trigger some of those things that have happened to people in their past and how does that show up for folks in the workplace?
Huong: Yeah. I think it's very similar in terms of when someone is experiencing, let's say a traumatic event or a stressor or whatnot. I think our amygdala, which is the primal part of our brain still goes into those same responses, right? So, the fight, flight, freeze or the fawn response as well. So, those are sort of folks who are more people pleasing or really using flattery in other forms as a way of being able to protect themselves. And so what I've seen amongst my clients and when I do consulting for organizations is the same thing as well in terms of you also going to have employees who are fighting, right?
Those who potentially can get whether it's verbally aggressive, worst case scenario, physically aggressive or folks who are passive aggressive, right? Some kind of aggression and fighting back. You're going to have those folks who flee and it could look like, right, avoidance. It could look like absenteeism. It could look like showing up late for meetings, whatnot. Then you're going to have folks who freeze and maybe they numb or disassociate. You don't even know that they are doing that, because it could be that they have become so good at freezing.
And then the fawn response, which unfortunately gets sort of praised and valued in a work culture because they tend to then work even harder or will do certain things to try to please their supervisors or whomever their peers, work harder, stay longer. So, I think oftentimes those folks sort of get un, not diagnosed, but they're not as recognized because that is something potentially more favored in work environments.
And that, we know that also with different events in terms of could be racial-based trauma, gender-based trauma being misgendered, chronically I know that's something my clients deal with a lot is chronically being misgendered at work. Having inappropriate questions asked of them. Racial-based trauma that occurs. And then you know as you guys have said the intersection of it all, and so just feeling, and overall leads to this sensation and feeling unsafe at work, but having to continue to work in order to make ends meet or being in a situation where someone is unable to find other employment or has to work in order to support their families.
Felicia: Yeah. I think it's so interesting because as you were sort of going through the different apps in terms of how that shows up, it made me think that there's sort of maybe two elements to it, which I'm sure you've seen where I think on the one side, they're sort of recognizing that this happens within the workplace from an organizational or managerial level. And then I think on the other side, it's probably also recognizing this is happening for the person who's experiencing that because I imagine as someone who's had great workplaces and terrible workplaces and had some workplace trauma experiences of my own, there were definitely times where I didn't even understand it was happening until later. And I could see especially the fawn response maybe not being identified internally as a traumatic behavior. Do you see that sort of dynamic come up at all with the folks that you work with?
Huong: Yes. Because I think we have a tendency to gaslight ourselves and then there's a certain work culture that I think we've been indoctrinated with in terms of that. Well, we all should be complaining about work. Right? Who says that they love going to work, who doesn't have a case of the Sunday scaries or whatever it is. Right? So, I think when I, since leaving kind of an official workplace, I am my own boss. And so that I've noticed, oh wow, there was certain situations where I also experienced workplace trauma, but I just thought that was normal. And that it was one of those things where, and I think for my clients as well, where it's like, "Oh, aren't we all supposed to go the happy hour, then drink away our sorrows and then complain about our bosses." Right?
So, I think there are certain societal and cultural buffers per se, or storylines that I think almost perpetuate these things of like, "Oh, I have to have a bad commute. I have to do this. I have to do that." And I think maybe, and again, I don't know the research behind this, but I think a little bit of what maybe led to somewhat of the great resignation or some people quitting their jobs is just realizing, "Oh, there's another way to do this. Work does not have to be this way." Right?
And I think of ... I don't know if companies are still saying this, but for some companies it was like, "Oh, work is like family. We're treating each other like family." And I think we realize that's actually toxic. No, this is not family. Right? Your coworkers are not your family members, and that this is a professional environment where people, everyone has their duties and roles and expectations and whatnot.
But I think that in terms of thinking about how certain dynamics and organizations are created, and if we have dismantled it a little bit in terms of looking at potentially some white supremacy sort of ideology behind some of this workplace and puritanical, Puritan ethics and ethos are just constantly working. Right? And this idea that if you take any break, so there's any engagement of pleasure that there, this it's very sinful and you're slovenly and you're lazy, right? This idea of laziness, the myth of laziness I think has been perpetuated.
So I think for a lot of folks, it just creates this vicious cycle where really believing that there's no way out and potentially for some folks that lifestyle creep too of creating a lifestyle that needs a certain amount of money or needs a certain job to be able to sustain that lifestyle.
Rachel S: For sure.
Felicia: Right. Go ahead Rachel.
Rachel S: You talk about normalizing poor work experiences because so many people have such poor work experiences. It's like if you have something different, then people look at you like, "Are you ... This is wild that you're saying to me this is not true, you're delusional or what have you." No, there are actually places that are not toxic and work on the things that we want people to have in their workplaces that are favorable. And it leads me to thinking about, since you talked about the great resignation, when folks are going into new workplaces, what does that look like for us to welcome them in if they have come from a place that's toxic and they're experiencing workplace trauma?
Huong: Yeah. That's a great question. And given that not all people are as trauma informed or as ... No one's ... We're not expecting anybody to be a therapist, to do therapy to their employees or supervisees, or whatnot. Right? But I think it is, as much as possible, and I think we talk about so much, so many people talk about having an inclusive space. Right? But what does that actually mean in the day-to-day? Is it just part of your mission statement or are there things that you do in terms inclusivity?
Are you putting pronouns on all your emails and when you're on Zoom calls or whatever it is, do you go around, right, for introductions, including let's say for this one, pronouns as well, and in terms of using inclusive language, right? And then in the beginning for the check-ins for the supervisors, is there just a general check-in of ... Usually I ask folks that have you ever had a conversation with your supervisor where they've asked you, "How would you like to receive feedback?"
Huong: Right? Like for some folks it's they're really like verbal or they like written, right? It's almost like what's your love language, but it's like what's your work language? How do you like to receive feedback both positive and negative feedback? And for some people, all right, it is of, for those who are back in the office, I think there's a lot of different noise sensitivities and in terms of for our neurodiverse folks as well, so experiencing trauma from folks, understanding different sound and light sensitivities or folks with different accommodations that need to be met.
And I think it's having open communication and dialogue. And I think for those folks who are higher up or hiring to start conversations and to have different working groups. And I think it's, if you're wanting to create inclusive culture, it's constantly making sure that your language, your tone, the way you present yourself and the people that you're hiring, and you're even down to the images that you're using in your marketing, like is it truly inclusive and is it's where there is also different employee assistance programs or hotlines, or whatnot.
What are kind of the ... Are there peer support groups? It's just thinking about different organizations and what they have in place for folks who may be struggling because of a workplace stressor or something from home that is causing a stress, which is making it more difficult to perform at work.
Felicia: These are some really great tips, Huong, I've been taking notes on the back end because I feel like you're just giving a lot of good things, which aren't necessarily mind blowing, but I think a lot of times in my own experience, I just feel like this is a topic that we don't really talk about that much at work, or maybe collectively we haven't been talking that much, but I feel like it's so universal.
And like you mentioned too, even just the fact that collectively we've been living through this pandemic for the last few years, and that's been sort of like a global trauma that a lot of us are impacted on in various ways. But for folks who are maybe in more managerial or leadership positions, I'm curious, do you think this is something that needs to be driven from that sort of leadership level? Or is it something that needs to, sort of the conversation should start more from the perspective of the person who's coming into the organization? I guess like the lower level employees?
Huong: Well, I'm biased. But I definitely think from a managerial perspective, because that's a lot of work and onus to put on somebody to come into a large organization and be like, "Hey guys." Right? And so I think part of this is if you're really wanting, right, to say that, "Hey, we want to hire the best people, we want to have keep retention. Right?" We know that, and we're looking just from a numbers perspective. We know that's really costly to hire and train people and then to have them quit or whatnot. And so I think part of this too, and I think what a lot of my clients have said when talking about workplace trauma is that if something traumatic has happened at work, I think a lot of times what is very confusing is when there hasn't even been an acknowledgement of what has happened. Right?
Or I think with, let's say with George Floyd, right, when that everything happened or with every single situation afterwards, when there's not even an acknowledgement of like, "Hey, we're all human beings first. Here's what's happening in our world." And even acknowledge if you don't even know what to say, and you're afraid of saying the wrong thing, you can say that as well. But I think there is, for a lot of folks, there's this sense of am I just supposed to keep working throughout all this, right? Or even if there is acknowledgement, it's like, "Okay, two minutes, all right, that's up. All right, guys. So number for this month," or whatever it's right. And they understand. Obviously this is a professional environment and there are tasks that must be done.
But I think for those employees who I have spoken to who have positive things to say, it's been where, yeah, that management takes some time just to be like, "Hey, we know there's a lot going on. We know each of you are going to be impacted very differently. Some of you might be impacted more. Some of you might think be impacted less. Here are these different lists of resources. Here's where different conversations are happening." And I think too of trusting people that if they need to take a mental health day, they can take a mental health day. Right? And so I think starting the conversation, I think really practicing what you preach. Right?
So, I think really wanting to practice that emotional intelligence. So that also requires training and a little bit education, right, on those folks parts. Sharing resources, I think checking in, right? Not just like a one time thing, but checking in with folks. And I think too, again, nobody's supposed to be a therapist or diagnosing, but just being aware of the potential signs and side effects of trauma and stress. And definitely in terms of if there is involving HR, involving who not, whatever, legal practices there are.
But definitely I think just making sure, taking care of your people and making sure that folks ... I think, because they are going to, we just acknowledge the power differential dynamics that folks ... It's going to be harder for folks even on organizations that they say are not hierarchical, but come on, most are. That it's going to be hard to try to talk to somebody who's especially a few tiers above you.
Felicia: Yeah. I'm flashing back to some of my early days working as a young freshly mentored grad. But it's interesting because as you were sharing, I think these are amazing tips, especially for sort of our current times where there's just so much happening. And I think we have to anticipate and expect that our employees and our team members are being impacted by probably a whole host of different things, not just necessarily a bad job at a previous company.
But I was thinking about one of my first jobs out of college where it wasn't the same kind of dynamic with what was going on in the world or at least how we were talking about it in some of those instances. But I had a terrible job that was so traumatic. And I remember I would have nightmares about this job and my boss yelling at me and literally had a recurring nightmare being on a, you'd laugh at this probably, but I was on a sinking ship and my whole team was with me and my boss was yelling at me and telling me that it was my fault that the ship was going down. So, I don't think there was too much interpretation needed for that dream.
But I remember going into my next job and holding so much trauma from that previous experience. And I was so scared to share any of that with my new team members and particularly my boss. And I remember it sort of came to a head because I was worried that I might run into someone from my previous job. And so I wanted to kind of give my boss a heads up. So, I had to sort of make a special appointment, sit him down and tell him what was going on. And I'll never forget he was so empathetic, which I was not expecting because I was early 20s, right out of school, junior person in the sort of office pool. And this guy was in his 60s, a white man, very privileged, very well off. And he was so supportive. He immediately went to bat for me. He literally protected me.
Felicia: And I remember just feeling that realization, which I imagined some of your clients hopefully will have where it was like, "Oh, this is how it's supposed to be." Not that, this. And I remember it took a long time for me to sort of lower my walls because they had been built up without me even knowing that. So, I'm just bringing that back and sharing that story to bring it back sort of to the managerial perspective where I know for myself personally right now, it's so complicated because I'm also processing my own trauma and trying to support other people.
And then thinking about, it's not just the global scale type of stuff, but it's the bad bosses. It's the bad experiences, it's the microaggressions, it's the macroaggressions, it's all the things happening. It just feels really overwhelming. I don't know if there's a question or any words of wisdom that you have from that. But I just wanted to name that because I do think that this conversation is so important and it doesn't mean that we're going to wrap it up in a bow and say, here's the checklist, five things to do to get rid of workplace trauma in your company.
Huong: No, thank you for sharing that. And I'm so glad that you had a positive reparative experience because I think that showed you, oh wow, there are nice bosses out there and this is how it feels to be protected. Right? And it's like that sort of learned, and in that moment what happened in your brain, probably you didn't realize it, was that it formed a new network. It was just, it almost like it wired together. It was like, oh okay, you can go to your boss and share something and have a positive effect. Right? So, then it probably made it where next time that it was a little bit easier, right, to go and talk to somebody as compared to if you had another negative experience, which I'm glad you didn't. But there's going to be other people, right, who might be listening and be like, "Well, I've done that five different times."
And so I think that's where we see the chronic trauma happening. Right? So, that difference between acute trauma, chronic trauma, complex trauma, potentially vicarious trauma. I think for some of the supervisors too, that I work with just from hearing trauma from their employees or maybe there's some managers listening who are like, "Oh no, my employees come to me all the time too much and telling me all their nitty-gritties of their trauma." Right? So, I think really what I really encourage people is know yourself, know your boundaries, know what you're really capable of because I think often we want to do so much, right? We want to be there for everyone all the time, but we can't.
And I think part of my own work has been just acknowledging my, I don't like to call the limitations, but just what my capabilities, just what I'm able to do and not to judge them or shame them and just be like, "No, these are the days I work, and this is how much time I need off to refill my cup so that I can be there for folks." And so I think having that self-compassion for ourselves as well, and also having strong firm boundaries. They could be flexible at certain times where I think knowing ourself well enough to know, okay, here are some of my potential triggers, right? Here are some of the things that ... And then obviously very helpful if you're working with your own personal therapist to identify that because if not ...
The universe has this really funny way of always giving us these teachers, right? That the most difficult teachers, that to really highlight the places that we're still growing. And so I think what I've noticed for myself and for clients is just the one who just acknowledge like, "Yeah, hey, working with this type of person brings this out to me. So, here's how I'm going to try to manage that." Right? But it does. It takes a lot of mental, cognitive energy to ... Almost you have to play this game of thinking a couple of steps ahead. Right? And I know for some folks they just, whether don't have the time or the bandwidth for that. But I think really encouraging folks to have, if I were a couple snapshots of words of wisdom is I think having compassion for yourself, that this is really hard stuff, right?
I cannot say that enough that whatever ... I always remind people, whatever reaction you're having to a traumatic situation is a normal response to an abnormal event, and your body took over and it had a response because in that moment, that's what your body thought was the best way to protect you. Right? Because I think for some folks, what happens is they get upset that their bodies, and didn't react in the way that they wanted. Right? And so then begun the negative thoughts of, "Oh, I'm not very strong or I'm not very smart or I wish I would've acted." No, your body reacted exactly the way it believed it needed to react. And it could react a very different way the next time. Right? It's just really in that moment, your body made a snap quick judgment, which it's great. You actually don't want to be in charge of that. Like if there's a car coming at you, you want your body to immediately, right, I'm hoping run. I don't think you would want to fight a car, but to make whatever decision to survive. And that moment too, your brain is wired for survival.
So, it's always trying to find ways to help you survive because I think too what happens and what people get stuck in with the trauma is the negative cognitive thoughts, the intrusive thoughts of like, "Oh, I should have stopped. I should have, I should have said something or I should have spoken up or I should have left." All these should haves.
And so I think we call those step points when we do cognitive processing therapy, which is like the gold standard for working with folks with PTSD. So, that's a very long way of giving you a few snippets.
Felicia: No, I love it. You can go on as long as you want to.
Rachel S: Yeah, for sure. Are you talking about compassion for others and yourself? And what you're talking about is kind of reminding me, you know the shower talk you have after something happens, then you have the argument again in the shower and it's you say all the right things. You have all this energy, but an hour or to a day before you didn't. And then when that happened, all of that escapes you in the moment and you do whatever it comes natural to you, whether it's fight, flight, freeze, or fawn. But I'm thinking about when you talked about managers and how they can support folks, what about folks who maybe don't have a manager? What are ways that they can advocate for themselves if they have leadership that's not really kind of tuned into being trauma informed and helping folks who may have either come from or be currently dealing with aspects of work that are traumatic?
Huong: So you're, just so I'm clear, you're talking about folks who are in an organization who don't have a manager, or you're talking about people who are independently contracted or working on their own?
Rachel S: Folks who don't have managers that are willing to kind of do the work that at least they've given.
Huong: Okay. Okay. Yeah. That's a tough one. I think it would be depending on the organization, I don't know if they're working groups. I don't know if there is like another overseeing body, like some kind of regulatory body that could support that organization.
I think it's a very case-by-case basis to see, right, is there a working group, are there other mentors. I think I would try to see what is, sort of what is the proper channel to go, and then what ways have been effective in terms of talking to other people. Right? I don't know if you want to ask for permission or for forgiveness. I'm not here to recommend one or the other, but I think it is one of those situations where it is going to be a little bit harder if you don't have someone kind of going to back for you and if you don't even have access, right?
If someone is not the top of the one who's in the food chain, whatnot, isn't even in the office or is in a whole separate wing of the building that you don't have access to, but I think it could be of talking to HR.
But I think of talking to someone safe, I think would be probably the first step and seeing what the options are, especially if indeed it is such a toxic workplace that is causing. And I think I wanted to reiterate too, when you're saying all those psychosomatic symptoms are very normal in terms of people having stomach aches and headaches and just feeling really sick before going to work.
I think we all have woken up that way feeling a little bit, "Oh, am I really sick on Monday morning?" Right? But I think if you're constantly just feeling a sense of dread, right, and nothing really ... I think that your body is trying to send you a very clear message there.
Felicia: Do you think there's a way to sort of have open conversations around workplace trauma and even just trauma in general as you've been speaking about? Is there a way in your opinion that we can have these conversations without re-traumatizing people?
Huong: Very carefully. And I think of acknowledging that it might be. And so usually before I do any presentation or any debrief or anything to organizations, because I'm oftentimes called in to debrief or talk to folks following a traumatic event or a stressor or whatnot. And usually, yeah, I caveat it by, "Hey, this might reproduce some feelings. And at any time, especially before pandemic times those, you can leave the room at any time if you would like, and if you need to take a break, like no questions asked.
And then now with Zoom or online it's so you can leave the room and just debrief afterwards if you would like or encourage you with a manager or supervisor, a trained professional or whatnot. And I think it's hard because it might be better with somebody who's not part of the organization. I think what I've seen as an outsider coming in is folks just seem, feel little more open to talking to somebody who's not within the organization. There definitely is a different dynamic when I notice leadership is in the Zoom room as compared to when they aren't, because I think, yeah, ultimately, like I said, our brains are in survival mode, are always looking for ways to survive.
So, as much as I think for some folks they'd love to share about their trauma, that in the back of their mind, there's also this other voice that's like, "Oh my God, do not say that to your boss. You don't want to lose your job." Right?The kids who's got braces or I don't know, you know whatever it is. And so I think that's the dynamic that's at play that I think makes it really hard I see for folks to speak up. But we do know that like burnout, right, that's been recognized by the World Health Organization now that burnout and people taking time off and medical leave all those things, right?
I think if you did a cost analysis for companies to show, hey, here's how much this is costing you. Right? We know that depression is the number one cost for companies in terms of missed days at work. And so yeah, I think if there were more supports. An ideal world, there's more supports in place for folks. And it was already a culture of talking about potentially yes, preexisting traumas and then also potentially things are happening in the organization and a way that doesn't feel that you're going to be punished for it.
Felicia: Do you think that people, have you seen a difference between sort of how open folks are with that virtual versus in-person dynamic? Because I just can imagine that if I were attending something, I would feel more comfortable to just turn my video off or sort of step away from the room without anyone knowing versus physically getting up and walking away, even with that permission in place. I can just imagine being like, "I'm not going to leave because if I do everyone will see me leave and then I'll have too much to deal with later." So, I'm just curious if that has come across at all in terms of what you're hearing or sort of what you're experiencing as you're having some of these different types of conversations.
Huong: Definitely. Before when I used to do in-person trainings for sexual assault or sexual response trainings, right? Trauma and forced sexual response trainings that we would say, "If this is triggering," right? But yeah, it is one of those things where someone ... Same thing, they're like, "Well, if I get up, then they're going to assume that I've been a victim or that I've ..." And so I think in terms of privacy and confidentiality, of course, that's always of most importance for me and for most trainers.
And so definitely I think I see folks feeling more comfortable. And usually what I do is too is I have a jam board or I have something that's more anonymous that people can type and some people write. So, I really try to cater when I'm doing presentations and stuff like this, two different folks in their different modalities of how they like to express themselves too.
Some people like to chat and are very comfortable with contributing to the conversation. Some people like to text, right? Some people like to ... Or before in-person, I would also have an anonymous box where they can write things and oftentimes too, I'm like, "Okay. You can put it in the feedback forms as well." Right? Because I always like to do feedback forms at the end of my presentations. So see what I'm, how to always improve. And so I think of leaving different ways and knowing that there are going to be some people who, yeah, they just ... Maybe it's not going to be relevant or it's a little too close to home or everyone takes something so different, right, from presentations. And right? You're not going to be able to cater to everyone.
I remember my supervisor told me about the rule of thirds, that there's a third of the people in the room who are going to love you and love everything that you're saying. There's a third of the people who are just ignoring you. They're doing something else. They don't like your message. And a third of the people that are just kind of neutral about it. So, when I'm trying to do presentations and really focus, I focus on the third that is just really interested. And this is ripe, ready, and right for them. And the folks who I can kind of tip over to my side and understanding that for some folks, they've built such a wall around their trauma, right, as a coping mechanism. There's so much defense that I would never want to yank someone's rug out from underneath them without already having built another rug or some other, right, thing to protect, so some other protective factors.
And so for me, if someone's not ready, I can't ... I've just ... That wouldn't be ethical as well to just sort of push somebody into the deep end, per se. So, I think it is for each person going to be a different approach, an intervention, which I think is what I hear from the hard part from a lot of directors. And people who are paying for these programs is they're like, "Well, we can't do an individualized program for each person." I'm like, "Well okay. Yes, I understand that. But here's sort of what I've seen that there is going to be different trajectories." So, there's not going to be a one size fits all approach.
Rachel S: I like when you said about the rule of thirds. I definitely have to keep that in mind next time we go into a facilitation because we always look at the surveys and take them to heart. Right? We want to know that we're affecting people in positive ways and that they're getting the most out of their time with us. And so let's hypothetically say you have that third of people that are managers, they're like, "This is new to me." Well, what am I looking for in my workplace that could potentially be harmful to folks? What sorts of things go on in the workplace that people can start to look out for to make changes from a top-down perspective?
Huong: Oh, great question. I think sometimes some things are just so unnoticeable to even somebody, right, at a different level, because it's incurring on such like a micro or different group level that one can't even see. But I think the overall energy, right, a sense of morale and in a team, I think one can notice that or see I think in terms of the way a team speaks to each other is their respect. Right? Just basic respect.
But I think also just I think absenteeism. I think we know per the research is one of the biggest sort of indicators especially at a workplace, tardiness and whatnot. And I think of engaging in conversation, right, instead of blaming the person because we tend to have this fundamental attribution error where someone does something, right, that we don't like, we assume it's their character and not an external situation. Whereas if we do something we're like, "Oh, that was just a one time thing. Usually I'm on time." So, I think just saying in a very open ended way like, "Hey Rachel, I noticed you're having a hard time getting to the meetings on time. Is there anything that you'd like to share that's going on? Or how can I help? How can I support you?"
And because I know that making to meetings on time is really important to you. So, how can I support you in that, right? And so then maybe from there, it wouldn't have Rachel share, "Oh you know well, my kids were nearly sick or I'm pulling double duty." Whatever it is. Or, "Hey, my mom just passed," or I don't know, whatever it is. Right? And so I think of opening, having open-ended questions and just noticing kind of the mood of your team. And again, knowing that it's not going to change overnight. If you've never taken a pulse of your team, you can't just expect like, all right, well I'm going to go in tomorrow ready to ask my team and they're just going to tell me how they feel.
No, there's no trust. There's no rapport. There's no, right? You'll have to build that over time and know that it's going to take some time. And that part of it is just I think when a person feels seen. Right? And I think really feels seen not just for what they're doing at work, but just as a whole person. I think we all like that moment, right, of like, "Oh, okay. They really see me for who I am." And I think that's why sometimes with travel and living in different cultures, and again, every culture has their pros and cons.
I remember oftentimes when I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Peru, some meetings would take a long time to get started because you have to go around and greet everybody and checking on everyone's family and grandma. And I remember just my young, naive self was like, "Ugh, can we get to the items?" But as time of course I was humbled and I'm like, oh, this is how people started to know who I was and trust me, and I developed confianza, which is like just trust. And it was always about confianza. You can't do any work without confianza.
And so I think that has always helped me in terms of in my work and in helping folks. It's just, yeah, it really is. It could be just remembering something about somebody, or "Oh hey, how was your kid's game or how was this, or how was that?" But I think it is of just having that personal connection where then when something bad happens, right, unfortunately that then someone would feel comfortable. Right? And I think it's just starting to create. I think it's that preventative instead of that, unfortunately, which I think a lot of organizations are more reactive rather than preventative. And so it's like fixing something when it's broken instead of just kind of tending to it and kind of doing the upkeep. Right? And so I think too, of knowing that, like we said, this change is going to be very slow.
But if that is something that you want to do of being trauma informed, of really talking about mental health, normalizing mental health, right, including mental health days, then I think that's something that needs to start now.
Felicia: Yeah. I think that's so important around trust and that psychological safety, because that's something that I feel it's gotten a lot more sort of like in the zeitgeist, more popular if you will, over the last couple years, especially. But it's sort of to my thinking been historically kind of dismissed as like the soft skills or like, "Oh, we'll get to that once we shift this product release or we'll deal with that later as a nice-to-have versus we got to get things done."
And I went to business school and we had a class our first semester, which was called Organizational Behavior, which dealt with a lot of the sort of like soft skill, like interpersonal interactions and culture, and a lot of the sort of stuff that I think is so important for trauma-informed managing and workplace styles. And that was not even a full semester class. It was like a couple weeks. And then they were like, "All right, let's get to finance, let's get to accounting. We got more important things to talk about." And I just always remember that because I feel like I wish that had been the cornerstone of my education because that couple weeks is really what's informed so much of what I've been doing in my own career since then.
And I think that it can be really challenging to develop trust for organizations where unlike SGO, we have nine people right now. We can build that trust in a lot easier fashion, I think, than maybe someone who's managing 50 people where maybe those 50 people don't all speak English as their first language or you're not on the same time zone or you don't have regular check-ins with them. And I think that's where I see a lot of the challenges because it's like, "Okay, that's great. How is that going to happen?"
And so I'm wondering, I obviously have some thoughts because I think about this stuff a lot, but I'm wondering from your perspective, because I can only imagine that those are some of the kinds of organizations that come to you from that reactive standpoint. Like oh, we didn't do anything to get to a place where we kind of have these conversations. So, please help us. What are the sort of considerations or is it something that you can say you can have psychological safety when you don't know everyone's name on your team. You know what I mean?
Huong: Yeah. No, those are really realistic sort of barriers, right, that I think employers have brought up and especially a lot of people have onboarded without either ever physically meeting folks or being in the same office or having those little, sometimes awkward, but sometimes okay, water cooler conversations, right? Waiting for your food to heat up in the microwave or whatever. But just those little moments right of awkwardness, but it's little chit chat here and there. But yeah, we're not having that anymore. Right, both pro and con.
But I think going back, if that is your organization's mission statement, right, or if that is part written somewhere of just like, hey, this is what we base our organization on. This is the foundation of who we are.We may not always perform. We may not always get it. Right? We're going to make mistakes. We're going to make mistakes. We're not always going to deliver, but here's what we want to do. And here's how, here are the things that we have in place and that we're going to try it and that we also welcome feedback from folks if we are missing the mark. Right? So, I think usually for those organizations that are, I guess, vulnerable, candid, just to be like, "Hey, here's where we failed. Here's where we didn't. Here's where we missed the mark." Right? I think folks are like, "Yeah. Okay. I can be on board with that." Right?
It's kind of like when I work with parents too, and it's like, if the parents mess up and they tell their kids they mess up, it kind of surprises the kid, right? Because they're like, "Oh my God." Right? But then kids they're always like, "Oh cool. I have one over my parents or something." Or like, "Oh my parents are people too." I don't know. I think what I've seen is for my clients who are the employees that they're just like, "Yeah. Wow, I work for a very human organization that it's not just all these platitudes." Right? And all these different promo things or different months or hashtags, I don't know, whatever performative allyship.
It really there's something more to it. And again, it's going to take more time to grow and to develop as compared to some of the more quick fixes of hiring somebody in to put on a nice bow or whatever. But you're not really getting to the heart of the matter, which is yeah ultimately do the people like to work for you or do they like to hang out with you? Do they enjoy what they're doing on a daily basis. And again, I don't want to go back to then, ooh, and then you'll like be able to squeeze them for more now. But that's really what I think when you look at people who've been in jobs for a long, for the duration or people who continue to have that duration that it is because they feel a sense of pride in their work as well.
I think we asked all the questions that we had in our minds. I'm sure we didn't ask all the questions because that's impossible. But is there anything that you would like to share with our sort of community and audience that we haven't touched on or asked you about yet? I think one of the ones is just why some people in some workplace environments, some people thrive and maybe whereas some others might be considered toxic, but some people thrive and some people don't. Because again, I think that comes ... A lot of my clients come in with a shame, right? Where they're like, "Well so and so can put up with this boss, but I can't. Or so and so laughs at what this person says." And just really reminding folks that each of us are so different, we have our own neurobiology. Right? There are some folks, a lot of folks I work with who, and I myself identify as a highly sensitive person. So, my nervous system is just really porous. Right? Which is great for my work because I'm super empathic. I feel things, I notice different energy changes. I can tell when someone's off, but it's also a curse because I'm just very, again, very sensitive to things and can a little bit like my startle response sometimes can be a little on.
And then there are folks who maybe yeah, because of a history of trauma or lack thereof of trauma or maybe they've come from a place where their boss was toxic to another level. So, the current boss seems super benign, right? So it's like we just never know what people are going through at the time, what their bandwidth is. And so I think really going back to not judging ourselves for however we're reacting, like whether well or not well to a workplace situation. And I think really remembering that work is just one part of our identity as well.
And that's something I continue to remind myself and remind my clients as well is that this is just one part of who we are. And if we look at the other burners in our lives, right? I call it the four burners, which is work, health, friends, and family, right? Are we also putting that same amount of gas fire into our other parts of our lives? Because oftentimes if we're putting all our fuel into work, the other parts they're going to stay cold. So, we got to also kind of divert some of our fire to the other side too.
Felicia: And now I'm like I'm feeling a little awkward right now, I'm like, "I got to look at my burners." But it's definitely, I think it's something I talk about with my therapist a lot too is where does energy get allocated? And I think it's especially complicated in our current times, not that past times haven't been complicated too. But a lot of folks are working from home. It's really hard sometimes to manage that balance between what I find is the workspace versus personal space because previously when I was commuting into an in-person job, I had a workplace commute, I had my morning coffee person that would have a chit chat with.
I would have some time to process or sort of decompose, de-stress. And that doesn't really happen when you're just walking from one room to the other or some people don't even have that luxury. Right?
I have a luxury where I have the third floor where I'm sitting now is my workspace and then I leave and I go down to the second floor and I'm like this is personal space. But I also have notifications on my phone and it can be really hard to, I think, set those boundaries in place because there's just also this expectation like, "Oh, but can you just hop on a quick call or can you just do this? Or can you just do that?" And I think it requires sometimes a lot of both understanding what you yourself need and then also saying no to people.
Felicia: And I'm a people pleaser. So I don't like saying no to people. It's really hard. So, it's complicated,
Huong: But yeah, yeah, yeah, definitely no is a full sentence. And I was actually just listening to this podcast where I think it was Elizabeth Gilbert was saying, Byron Katie has this great thing where she says, "Thank you. And no." And it's just ...
And two, I don't know. I don't know if you know Cal Newport, he writes a lot about digital minimalism. But he has this great kind of wind down thing where at the end of his work, he kind of does this in a little robot voice where he is like, "Beep, beep, beep, signing out." Or I don't know, something like that. I'm butchering it, but where he kind of just, it just signals to him I'm done, this is it, I'm logging off. Right? It's almost like back in the AOL days when the internet, the little dial.
Felicia: The little door shut.
Huong: Yeah, the little door. Exactly. It's like door shut. Right? So I think ... I don't know. I'm always trying to find ways too to just be like, "Nope, that's it."
Felicia: Yeah. It's something I think about a lot just because, especially in recent weeks what I've found is that I try really hard to sort of digital detox on the weekends and put the phone away, and then not have notifications on, and I take my email off my phone. But then just in the last couple of weeks, there's been things that have been happening in politics and violence and all this stuff that has started to play out on off hours. And I think as a leader, as a manager, that's where it gets complicated. Not that there's a right or a wrong way to handle it, but I think that's where the danger, I have found, is that you can deplete your own cup really, really quickly.
Felicia: And then if you don't proactively take steps, whatever those steps might be for you to refill, it just never gets refilled again because sometimes I think to myself, I'm like, "Why aren't other people enforcing my boundaries and why aren't other people doing this for me." And I have to get away from that thinking, because I'm like, "It's not their job." Right?
Felicia: It's not their job to be that support. But then it's about also knowing when am I at my limit to say, "I need this or I have to step back or thank you no." I'm going to start adding the thank you in, because I feel like that makes it sound a little bit less just no.
Huong: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you, no.
Felicia: But I like that sort of thank you, no.
Huong: Yeah. And I think, especially in your role, Felicia, that you can model this, right? If you're trying to also reduce burnout in your colleagues or your staff is yeah, just also say, "Hey guys, hey you all." This is I reached my max for today. Right? So, I think oftentimes too you doing things, especially in your position, gives people permission also to do things, right? So, if that's one way that maybe can trick your brain into being like, "Oh no, this is good. Not just for me." You know, is that like-
Felicia: It's for the good of everyone.
Huong: Yeah. It's just like we want to trick or do a little cognitive trickery, we can trick your brain by saying you're pleasing people by pleasing yourself, which then will help. Right? So, you see how we do a little Jedi.
Felicia: All right. I like it. I like it, I'm going to internalize it.
Huong: That can be a way. Right? Because I think too, yeah, I always tell people if you don't want people answering emails, don't send emails during off hours. Right?
Felicia: I've learned that, like I said, a long time.
Huong: You have to respond to this, but I'm like remember the power differential. If you're sending this at 2:00 AM, what message is that sending to them?
Felicia: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you Google. Google has a, Gmail has schedule send, which I really love.
Huong: Yes. I love Schedule send. Yes.
Felicia: Yes. But I know we're right at the top of our time together, anything else from you, Rachel, or you Huong that we haven't touched on or that you'd like to sort of toss in as a wrap up thought?
Rachel S: Just randomly you're talking about, because you see this is my living room space and I go to a separate room, but for me it's pants. So, I have work pants and then I have Rugrats pajama pants.
Rachel S: So, when the Rugrats come out, then work is done and that helps me switch up a little bit. So I don't know for you other work-from-home folks, if you want to switch your pants out to help you psychologically switch off. That might be a little too.
Huong: I love that. I love that. Yeah. I remember I once had a massage therapist or an energy person tell me, "Wash your hands in between clients." Because that helps kind of wash off the energy. Right? And I kind of have to go use the restroom anyways in between clients. I've kind of trained my body to use that 15, 10 minutes or whatever, 10, 15 minutes in between clients. But there is something, right, about just taking a minute too. Right? And that's usually before I start any presentation or anything, I'm like, "Hey, let's just take a minute to center ourselves and really be present right now where we are." Right? And because oftentimes we're just flying away somewhere else. So, I think really engage our senses. Right? Like what do you smell? What do you see? What do you taste? What do you feel? Right?
And so really I think that's one way of just grounding ourselves throughout the day so that it just doesn't feel like we're constantly somewhere else.
Felicia: I love that. I'm going to start practicing that too. I'm going to just lean into the whole COVID hand washing thing and be like, "It's for energy purposes this time."
Felicia: But this has been wonderful, Huong. It's so many great tips. I've been taking a lot of notes for myself on the back end. I'm sure folks who are listening to this will too. But thank you so much for chatting yet again with us. And for anyone who's listening who wants more of Huong, we have, I think three podcast episodes out with her at this point. So, feel free to just Google, look her up, follow her, all the things. Anything else that you'd like to point people for or towards rather?
Huong: No, I think we can add some of the links to the PTSD stuff and the ACE questionnaires and all this stuff. But just know I really just remind people there's nothing wrong with you. This is a hard place. It's hard to be human. You know, it's really hard to be human right now. So, let's just give ourselves some grace.
PTSD affects 3.5 percent of the U.S. adult population, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or approximately 8 million Americans who live with the condition. Approximately 37 percent of people diagnosed with PTSD display serious symptoms.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), depression causes an estimated 200 million lost workdays each year at the cost of $17 billion to $44 billion to employers and is the #1 cause of absenteeism.