Employee Wellness for the 1 in 6 Men: 1in6 Thursdays on the Joyful Heart Foundation Blog
While I was in business school, we frequently discussed the correlation between employee productivity and employee wellness. We were taught that a company could see an increase in work place morale, and subsequently profit, when they encouraged employee health and safety. In my experience, my physical and emotional health positively affected my productivity. Are trauma-informed management practices profitable for companies?
The staple examples of an increase in wellness programs were that of Google and Bank of America. These companies found an incentive for providing on-campus daycare, obesity prevention and smoking cessation programs, gymnasiums and other healthy resources.
It made sense to me that employees would experience less anxiety knowing their children were safe, easily accessible and that parents were avoiding the increasing financial burden of childcare. And that this would result in an increase in task focus/output. Furthermore, a work culture that enforces anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies (including religion, sexual orientation, transgender, race, ethnicity, and ability, to name a few) sends the message that employees are valued and safe.
But what if you don’t feel safe, either from interpersonal (domestic) violence or intrusive, vivid memories of childhood sexual abuse? How does trauma affect your performance at work?
Men who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse may develop self-defeating coping strategies, including addiction to substance dependency, pornography, risky sexual behavior and adrenaline sports. Even extremely-high career performance can be used as a coping mechanism, which can lead to burn out and high employee turnover rates. Some who have experienced abuse can exhibit anger, poor boundary-setting skills, insecurity, depression and are at a higher risk of suicide.
Abuse-reactive behaviors to power dynamics in the work place are a very interesting and less discussed effect of trauma. How do survivors react to people with power over them or if they feel threatened by them?
Our first thought maybe is to assume aggressive behavior, but what about the employee that does not reach their potential because they are too afraid to act? That billion-dollar idea may never make it to marketing. You could just hire someone new. But if we stop to consider that 1 in 6 men are survivors of an unwanted or abusive sexual experience before the age of 18, we may have to clear our schedules for a lot of interviews.
After business school, I put into practice many of the leadership theories suggested. I strived to identify performance incentive and positive reward strategy. I found that many of us professionals in the victim-services fields are ourselves survivors, and although extremely dedicated, it was important to find a healthy balance between advocacy and self-care. I knew first-hand the positive impact of employee wellness, the benefit of trauma-informed policies, administration and referral to resources; both in the for-profit and non-profit fields.
If the logic is that healthy input increases quality product output, and thus an increase in profit, why not address the drivers to negative variables in the lives of our staff? Is it because abuse is a deeply personal and an extremely stigmatized issue? Taboo? Liability? Or is it simply lack of awareness?
A strategy to increasing awareness is to meet men where they are… where they work, worship, live and play. We can use language that validates an unwanted experience without forcing the survivor to identify as a victim or abused person. We can be careful not to use words that in our society imply weakness and may lead to recrimination from peers and isolation. Stigma and shame can be strong deterrents to seeking help and healing.
I’m not suggesting we should start providing victim services at work (let the experts handle that). Yet, trauma-informed management practices have been very helpful in identifying the effects of childhood sexual abuse, coping strategies and how it can all affect our workplace environment. Whether we choose to see it as profitable, smart management or a moral obligation, employee wellness isn’t just a fad. It is a practice that we cannot afford to ignore.
A confident, healthy, successful life is attainable. Healing is not an easy road for many, but it is bearable if surrounded by validation, patience and encouragement. Awareness and inclusivity can be just enough to communicate these sentiments to our staff. One brochure or flyer with thoughtful language, a hopeful message or on-line resources can make all the difference to a man and his loved ones… and their productivity.
A quick thank you to the 1in6 staff and Joyful Heart Foundation colleagues that remind me everyday to engage in the same self-care practices we encourage for all survivors engaged in the work to heal others.
– By Martha Marin, Managing Director for 1in6
Martha is a Colombian native raised in L.A. and South Florida where she received a B.A. in Business Management from the University of North FL. She brings us a unique set of skills acquired from many years of for-profit management and a deep dedication to human rights. As a Program Coordinator for the Women’s Center of Jacksonville and FL Dept. of Health, she taught thousands of students on topics related to the prevention of sexual assault including cyber bullying, LGBTQ/sexual harassment and teen dating violence, as well as human trafficking. Martha is a public speaker, consultant and professional trainer.
Most recently she served as the Chair of the Northeast Florida Human Trafficking Coalition. Her international projects include a large-scale bi-lingual internship for the USAID Scholarships for Education and Economic Development at FL State College at Jacksonville.