By Jordan Brewer, Talent Acquisition Manager and Veteran Liaison at Aveanna Healthcare
Every workplace has its own stressors—from deadlines to workload and everything in between. But when you combine the stress of the daily grind with the chronic anxiety of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a simple “day at the office” can seem like anything but.
Such is the struggle faced by the millions of veterans with PTSD. As they transition into civilian life—a world of résumés, interviews and deadlines—they’re still shouldering the anxiety of their worst, most grueling days in service. How can we help them?
For starters, we have to meet them where they are: As a recruiter at Aveanna Healthcare, a pediatric home care company that made it its mission to hire veterans (and as a five-year Navy vet myself), I’ve learned that PTSD comes in all shapes and sizes. Not every service member has it, and of those who do, not everyone expresses it the same way.
For example, PTSD can range from an occasional forgetfulness to something more intense, like anger, and it affects those who saw combat along with those who didn’t. Some people experience it for a short while after service, while others have the anxiety follow them for years to come. And not everybody who has it knows they do.
But regardless of the traits and duration of an employee’s PTSD, there are a few things every manager and co-worker can do to help:
- Learn to spot the signs. I always tell people that PTSD isn’t what you see in the movies. There may not be some huge outburst or war flashback. Sometimes, the signs may be subtler, like if someone forgets little things or has trouble concentrating. Another indicator might be if they interact with colleagues differently—being more terse or withdrawn in a gradual or sudden fashion.
- Communicate. Employees may just need someone to listen—or they may not. But never let someone struggle in silence without at least asking if you can help. However, you also have to know when to walk away. Everyone manages stress differently, and like war, some battles just take time to work through.
- Embrace flexibility. I’ve seen veterans do best when their managers accommodate their needs in creative and flexible ways, as opposed to asking everyone to meet some uniform policy. Rearrange their schedule so they can miss the anxiety-ridden morning traffic jam, allow them to take frequent breaks during the day to recharge, or give the option to telecommute once a week. Ask them what works best for them, and go from there.
- Consider workspace design. See if you can change anything about the employee’s physical workspace to meet their needs. For example, if they feel anxious when startled, place their desk facing the door so that they can see as people approach, rather than being surprised from behind. If crowds or noise trigger them, consider placing them in a quiet spot instead of areas with high foot traffic, like near the elevators or break room.
- Engage and train HR. At Aveanna, we hire for about 180 locations—but as a recruiter, my job isn’t just to fill one opening and then move on to the next one. Rather, recruiters should be involved at every step of that person’s employment over the long haul. As challenges arise that could be attributed to PTSD, such as employee-to-employee conflict or performance issues, it’s important to have a human resource staff trained to help job candidates through the process with compassion and understanding.
- Create a resource list. When I tell veterans about the multitude of free resources they have available to them from nonprofits, licensed therapists and other local groups, they’re amazed. That’s why it’s integral to build up a resource list and a strong referral base to send employees when they need help.
No two veterans are the same—so PTSD will never be a one-size-fits-all issue. But with a little compassion and genuine flexibility, we can help veterans feel included, welcome and heard in the workplace.