What is Organizational Health?

Organizational Health

Downloadable PDF to share with your organization

It is widely accepted that many jobs are stressful. Anyone working in fast-paced, high-pressure environments can attest to the wear and tear that they can experience over time when the demand outweighs their capacity to deliver, or when the work is dangerous or numbingly repetitive, when the hours are long, and the pay is low, or when they work in a service industry where dissatisfied customers use staff as a lightning rod for their frustration or even, at times, their rage.

Ask any airline customer service agent what it is like to handle a horde of angry travellers when all flights have been delayed by an unexpected storm and this poor person’s power to solve the dilemma is limited, or even non-existent. Ask the factory worker operating a dangerous machine for 12 hours a day on a line with poor working conditions and a hostile climate. Ask the call centre operator (call centres have one of the highest turnover rate of any job at the current time) where you are underpaid, monitored for the length of your calls (“that was too long” “you said the wrong thing, take the next call, go go go!”), and sometimes they don’t even have the right to go to the bathroom during a shift without being penalized. The speech writers working to deadline, the day trader, the server in a diner who is on their feet for 12-hour shifts, air traffic controllers … the list is long, and most of us have worked in such settings at some point in our lives.

The term organizational health refers to the varied and often complicated factors that affect the capacity and performance of an organization. Work hours, type of work, stress levels, budgets, workload, turnover and so many other factors all have an impact on the health of an organization.  At the very core of this is the health of each individual including: how they feel about their jobs, how they perform them, how committed they are to their roles and how their jobs are affecting them personally.

How Does Workplace Trauma Exposure Affect Organizational Health?

Stress has an enormous impact on the health of an organization, and when the added element of secondary and/or direct trauma exposure is present, balancing workplace wellness becomes far more complicated, and we would argue, even more critical. High-stress, trauma-exposed work environments such as health care, law enforcement, mental health services, child welfare and many other related fields have unique and specialized organizational health needs.

 

Why Don’t Employee Wellness Initiatives Always Work?

Many human resource companies have become interested in staff wellness over the past two decades and have explored ways to reduce burnout, increase employee satisfaction and eliminate workplace grievances, disability claims and attrition. Some of those initiatives have been effective, but the generic “in-the-box” workplace wellness programs have not always been successful in the complex settings that we, at TEND, work in: hospitals, correctional facilities, child welfare, law enforcement, anti-human trafficking, refugee boards and similar challenging work environments. Over the years, we have been approached by leadership in these workplaces who are extremely concerned about the emotional and physical health of their staff and are witnessing high turnover rates, low morale, and difficulty attracting and retaining skilled labour.

 

A Framework to Understand Organizational Health in Trauma-Exposed Settings

 TEND’s Co-Executive Director, clinical psychologist and trauma specialist Dr. Patricia Fisher, became very interested in the truly unique characteristics of workplaces that have regular exposure to a combination of high stress, high volume of work, diminished resources and trauma. Dr. Fisher has spent the past two decades developing a framework to understand these workplaces which she refers to as “high-stress, trauma-exposed” work settings.

Dr. Fisher developed the Organizational Health Model for Complex Stress environments that can assist leadership in developing a better understanding of best practices and effective interventions to support their teams.

Dr. Fisher’s model has demonstrated that we need to start with the foundation elements which are Leadership, Succession Planning and Health and Wellness.

Leadership: Leaders are people too, and they are powerful role models for their staff. Leaders are also often working under extremely high stress burdens themselves. We also need to remember that leaders are often promoted into their roles with very little training or experience managing other people, and we need to give them the time, support and training to get competent in their new role.

Succession planning refers to several factors: addressing the inevitable loss of staff through retirement (a very large demographic shift that we are in the midst of, with many Baby Boomers retiring), illness and job change, and the critical need to attract and retain new hires such as Millennials who often have different priorities and values in terms of work-life balance. As the proportion of new workers in teams increases, we often find that the more experienced staff are depleted and have sometimes become disillusioned and are, as a result, unable to perform the crucial role of supporting and guiding their more junior team members.

Health and wellness is also an essential element. New research on the impact of toxic stress has clarified how trauma-exposed work creates a unique climate with increased risk for serious stress and burnout effects for individuals, leaders and teams. These can inevitably lead to a rise in sick time, low morale, lack of team cohesion and high turnover. These consequences can, in turn, seriously limit a team’s ability to work effectively and efficiently.

 

Where to Start?

The good news is that there are some excellent resources to help high-stress, trauma-exposed organizations assess their functional capacity and decide where to begin in implementing effective strategies to support their teams.

 

1) The Secondary Traumatic Stress Informed Organization Assessment Tool (STSI-OA)

Dr. Ginny Sprang, from the University of Kentucky and some of her colleagues (Sprang et al, 2014) developed a free Organizational assessment tool: the Secondary Traumatic Stress Informed Organization Assessment Tool (STSI-OA). The STSI-OA is an assessment instrument that can be used by any organizational member at any level to evaluate the degree to which their organization is STS-informed, and able to respond to the impact of secondary traumatic stress in the workplace.

To access this test, go here: http://www.uky.edu/CTAC/STSI-OA

Click Here to read an article on the psychometric properties of the STSI-OA

 

2) Organizational Health in Trauma-Exposed Environments – Online Course

This intensive online course was designed by Dr. Patricia Fisher for managers and supervisors of teams working in high stress, trauma-exposed environments. The course supports participants to be effective leaders and to build strong, resilient and productive teams by exploring their vital role in Organizational Health and recognizing the impact of chronic stress on individuals, teams and organizations.

LINK to the COURSE Here

 

3) The Organizational Health Roadmap

Dr. Fisher also developed the Organizational Health Roadmap to meet the needs of the thousands of individuals from so many trauma-exposed fields who have taken our Organizational Health and Leadership training and who asked for more resources to take them beyond the basics. The Organizational Health Roadmap provides a guided 10-module program that supports your Implementation Team as you develop a practical and sustainable action plan to meet the specific need and circumstances of your team.

While trauma-exposed organizations share a range of specific risks and resiliency factors, the Roadmap program recognizes that each workplace experiences a unique profile. You are the experts in your own workplaces – and the Roadmap is designed to guide you as you first evaluate your own unique resiliency and risk profile, and then build a custom set of practical solutions and implementation plans to fit your specific circumstances.

Organizational Health, wellness

Learn more about the Roadmap here
Books by Dr. Patricia Fisher

 

Sources:

 Fisher, P. (2016) Building Resilient Teams: Facilitating Workplace Wellness & Organizational Health in Trauma-Exposed Environments. Kingston, TEND ACADEMY.

 Sprang, G., Ross, L., Blackshear, K., Miller, B. Vrabel, C., Ham, J., Henry, J. and Caringi, J. (2014).  The Secondary Traumatic Stress Informed Organization Assessment (STSI-OA) tool, University of Kentucky Center on Trauma and Children, #14-STS001, Lexington, Kentucky.

The Edge of Compassion – Françoise Mathieu giving a TEDTalk for TEDxQueensU

For the past 15 years, Secondary Trauma specialist and compassion fatigue educator Françoise Mathieu has been exploring tools to help all of us navigate the challenges of sustaining compassion and empathy towards others – both as individuals and professionals.

This talk explores ways to find the right balance between caring for others while staying healthy and empathic. Françoise is a Registered Psychotherapist and a compassion fatigue specialist. Her experience stems from over 20+ years as a mental health professional, working as a crisis counsellor and trauma specialist in university counselling, military, law enforcement and other community mental health environments.

Françoise is co-executive director of TEND, whose aim is to offer consulting and training to helpers on topics related to secondary trauma, compassion fatigue, burnout, self-care, wellness and organizational health. Since 2001, Françoise has given hundreds of seminars on compassion fatigue and secondary trauma across North America to thousands of helping professionals in the fields of health care, child welfare, the criminal justice system and other similar high stress, trauma exposed professions.

Françoise is the author of “The Compassion Fatigue Workbook” which was published by Routledge in 2012 as well as several articles and publications.

This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community.


 

compassion-fatigue-workbook-francoise-mathieu

“Françoise Mathieu’s writing is wonderful: she speaks from the heart, practitioner to practitioner, about the stressors and strains of human service work, particularly those that come from prolonged regular work with traumatized patients and clients. This is a book you help write by yourself and about yourself. That’s why it is the workbook for trauma work.” – Charles R. Figley, Tulane University, Louisiana, USA, and author of Treating Compassion Fatigue

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Good Reads for Helpers

If you’ve met me before, you will know that I am a huge believer in bibliotherapy, the transformative power of books – at least for those who enjoy reading. (I will have other suggestions in a future post for the rest of you.)

I was once told, at the end of a two-day compassion fatigue training that I had “recommended too many books” – Impossible, I say!

When I had a private practice, I had a shelf full of my top ten reads which I would lend to clients until I realised that the return rate was, ahem, random at best. So, instead, I started compiling lists of recommended readings which I continue to share in my workshops and trainings.

On these cold winter days, snuggling up with a good read and learning new strategies to combat compassion fatigue and general stress sounds like a healthy way to beat the winter blues.

My favourite books to help professionals stay healthy and compassionate:

 

Compassion Fatigue/Vicarious Trauma

Trauma Stewardship by Laura Van Dernoot Lipsky (2009) 

The Compassion Fatigue Workbook by Françoise Mathieu (2012) (available here)

 

Organizational Health

Is work Killing You? A Doctor’s Prescription for Treating Workplace Stress (2013) by David Posen 

Building Resilient Teams by Patricia Fisher (2016) (available here)

 

Trauma and the Body 

Bouncing back: rewiring your brain for maximum happiness by Linda Graham (2013)

 Childhood Disrupted: How your Biography Becomes your Biology by Donna Jackson Nakazawa, (2015).

 The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel Van Der Kolk, (2014).

The Body Bears the Burden: Trauma, Dissociation and Disease by Robert Scaer, (2014).

 

Stress/Immune System

When the Body Says No by Gabor Maté

Resilience, Balance & Meaning Workbook by Patricia Fisher (available at here)

 

Work/Life Balance

Take Time for Your Life: a 7 Step Program for Creating the Life you Want by Cheryl Richardson (1999)

 Self Care/Stress Reduction

 Little book of stress relief by David Posen

 Simplify Your Life: 100 Ways to Slow Down and Enjoy the Things That Really Matter by Elaine St James

 

Taking Its Toll…Paying The Price: Vicarious Trauma in Law Enforcement

Law enforcement; a much maligned field but everyday these wonderful individuals knowingly put themselves in to positions of physical danger so that the rest of us can feel safe. While the potential harm to themselves physically is better documented, what are the long term risks of taking a bullet as a police officer, the mental health aspect of their work and who is more likely to end up traumatized by this work is just beginning to be understood. Enjoy this fantastic article by Dr.Fisher below!

By Patricia M. Fisher. Ph.D., & Mark LaLonde
Blue Line Magazine September Issue, 2001

THE SCOPE OF THE PROBLEM

As Tom’s example demonstrates, law enforcement professionals are exposed to two very different sources of stress – organizational (or systemic) job stress, and traumatic stress. Longterm exposure to systemic job stress results in a wide range of negative effects on individuals and the workplace. Exposure to traumatic stress also results in a characteristic set of distressing responses and symptoms. While both systemic stress and traumatic stress are each serious problems in their own right, when combined they greatly increase the risk for negative effects.

It is now clear that the effects of workplace stress and trauma are critical issues in lawenforcement. We know that the problem affects members, their families, the workplace, and the employer. We also know that the problem is increasing and that the personal and financial costs are escalating.

Consequences to the individual member may include a wide range of physical health problems including cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal problems, increased risk for cancer, and immune system problems. Depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, substance abuse and addictions are all outcomes of long-term high-level workplace stress. Unfortunately, longterm stress symptoms such as poor communication, withdrawal, aggression, mistrust and defensiveness often contribute to family breakdown and loss of the member’s support network.
In terms of the organization, effects include decreased productivity, poor morale, increased staff conflict, absenteeism, increased overwork and overtime. Stressed members are also at risk to “cut corners” and engage in more hazardous practices.

Read More Here

A Comprehensive Approach to Workplace Stress & Trauma in Fire-Fighting

An academic article by our very own Pat Fisher.

Do you have any firefighters in your lives that you know could use this information? Please share.

Excerpt: “Firefighters are exposed to a wide range of workplace stresses resulting in a wide range of negative physical, psychological, interpersonal and organizational consequences. This paper presents a comprehensive approach to workplace stress in fire-fighting. The Complex Stress Model encompasses the full set of workplace systemic and traumatic stresses encountered by firefighters. The risk/resilience factors, effects and outcomes of systemic and traumatic stress are reviewed, followed by a discussion of the challenges these pose to fire-fighting organizations. Within this framework, effective workplace wellness and organizational health initiatives need to incorporate three strategic elements: building capacity, increasing resiliency, and supporting positive culture change.”

Read the full article here.

Addressing Workplace Stress: A Comprehensive Wellness Imperative for Individuals and Their Organizations

Click here for the pdf.

HUFFPOST, THE BLOG 07/02/2013 06:45 pm ET | Updated Sep 01, 2013 Addressing Workplace Stress: A Comprehensive Wellness Imperative for Individuals and Their Organizations By Patricia Fisher, Megan Cleghorn • • Identifying the most pronounced sources of stress in your life is rarely difficult. However, pinpointing some of the less overt stress triggers is more challenging. Understanding how multiple sources of stress in your life act in concert to create your own individualized risk and resiliency profile is even more complex.

One thing we know with certainty is that your health and wellness cannot be compartmentalized. No area of your life is exempt from impact if one or more other areas of your life are burdened with high stress. Similarly, just as no discrete part of your life is singularly impacted by high-stress exposure, you are not the only one impacted. Your stress level has many consequences for your organization’s health that manifest in terms of direct and indirect costs as well as detrimental effects on the work environment. As a result, your organization has a vested interest in your ability to effectively address stress and burnout, because your wellness drives your organization’s performance. Accordingly, creation of a robust organizational wellness infrastructure and implementation of research and experience based stress-management programs should be embraced as a central operational priority.

A comprehensive approach to stress management requires a thorough understanding of the many sources of stress in your life as well an appreciation of all the sources of support and resilience. This provides a balanced framework to examine the wide-ranging impacts of stress on your physical and mental health, your professional and personal relationships, and your overall capacity to function optimally. Gaining an accurate understanding and awareness of your stress profile supports meaningful actions and the development of a comprehensive wellness plan that will reduce the negative impacts of stress on your mind, body, relationships and performance. Consider the following integral steps to raising awareness and spurring meaningful progress :

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What Does My Risk Profile Look Like?

Gaining an accurate awareness of your stress risk and resiliency profile in your professional and personal life is an important initial step toward enhanced wellness. There will be factors that are supportive and resiliencebuilding and other factors that increase your experienced stress. With respect to your professional life, for example, consider factors such as workload, level of control, job demands, role ambiguity, and compensation and advancement opportunities. Also consider your individual risk factors such as work/family conflict, and your belief in the value of your work. Consider the same in your personal life. This analysis helps you determine how at risk you are to develop stress and trauma symptoms.

How Well Am I Taking Care Of Myself?

Our bodies and minds are not designed to sustain consistent exposure to high levels of chronic stress. Evaluate what you are currently doing to manage your stress professionally and personally. Take a holistic approach to your selfassessment because a balanced lifestyle is central to effective self-care. Often we find that our self-care may be quite good in some areas of our lives and neglected in others. The more balanced we are, the more we are able to cope with the stresses and demands that we face. Unfortunately, many of us find ourselves caught in a tornado of work, family responsibilities, household tasks, and other personal obligations. Life can then become a succession of stressful events, deadlines and obligations, leaving little opportunity for renewal or even for simple pleasures. Consider what steps you are currently taking to manage your self-care physically, psychologically and emotionally, cognitively, behaviorally, interpersonally and spiritually.

What Is My Stress Symptom Profile?

We know that chronic stress plays a central role in the development of stressrelated physical and mental health challenges, cognitive functioning, professional and personal relationships, and the ability to see life with optimism, hope and energy. Once you have established your risk and resiliency profile and your self-care profile, consider your individual profile of stress symptoms and effects, focusing on physical health challenges such as stress-related illness and disease, and mental health consequences such as depression, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse. It is also essential to probe the specific symptoms you experience relating to job stress, burnout, harassment, and exposure to direct and vicarious trauma.
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Where Do I Go From Here?

In moving from awareness to action, it is essential that you acknowledge and accept the magnitude of your stress symptoms and commit to developing an active and practical wellness plan. That wellness plan should be constructed to allow you to recover from any existing stress effects, to then maintain a level of self-care that matches the level of demands placed on you, and to engage in proactive practices to increase your resilience. Ultimately, to succeed in enhancing your individual wellness and, in turn, your organization’s health, you must build a comprehensive lifestyle that supports and sustains you through work and personal stresses. Sustainability rests on the principle that you have to replace that which has been depleted. If you are going to be a productive, active, effective person and teammate, you need to be well-nourished at all levels. To make durable changes in your professional and personal life, you and your key stakeholders must partner in (1) making a serious commitment to address the impact of stress in your lives, (2) taking responsibility for what you choose to do about your stress-management, and (3) taking action from an attitude of care, concern and respect. We need to clearly understand that for both individuals and organizations to flourish, we must treat our individual and collective wellness as a central operational imperative.

Q&A Interview: Dr. Patricia Fisher & Meaghan Welfare

On November 9-10th, Dr. Patricia Fisher & Meaghan Welfare, BA, will be offering Manager’s Guide to Stress, Burnout & Trauma in the Workplace at the Lamplighter Inn in London, ON. Last week, I sat down with Dr. Fisher & Meaghan Welfare to ask them a few questions about this unique training opportunity for managers in trauma-exposed workplaces.

Q) Why did you decide to offer this course together?

Dr. Fisher: I am excited to offer this program with Meaghan both because of her extensive professional background in mediation and compassion fatigue and expertise in working with highly stressful, complex workplaces such as the Canadian Armed Forces, and also because of her enthusiasm, commitment and passion for the work.

Meaghan: Dr. Fisher is a trailblazer in the field of high stress and trauma exposed work places. I am thrilled to be working alongside her to offer this amazing course.

Q) What are typical issues you see manager’s encountering in trauma-exposed workplaces?

A: Many work setting with a high level of trauma exposure such as corrections, child protection services, law enforcement and health care, to name a few, are dealing with significant external pressures such as inadequate funding, escalated staffing challenges with higher staff turnover and recruitment and retention, insufficient resources, interagency complexity, difficulties maintaining a positive and collaborative work culture, generational issues and succession planning, etc. This environment of heightened stress leads to higher levels of negative effects on staff and that in turn impacts the capacity, culture and productivity of the organization at all levels. Given all this, managers typically face multiple competing demands for their time and attention, and are often highly stressed, isolated and pressured themselves. Often managers are forced to be in a reactive, crisis-driven mode where they have to attend to the fire burning highest and closest. The challenges they address are often complex, layered and their immediate crisis-responses can sometimes lead to unintended consequence – these in turn generate more challenges that they need to deal with later.

Q) What kind of management strategies will participants learn about in this course?

A) Participants will learn how to understand the complex stress environment that they work within and to assess for the specific areas of resilience and the focal areas of risk. We will help each participant learn how to increase staff resiliency and reduce stress consequences. We use a risk needs assessment tool to define the participants’ priority action areas and help them develop practical plans and strategies to preserve and amplify their strengths, and address their challenges.

Each participant will be able to re-evaluate the efficacy of their strategies and make necessary adjustments over time.

When we consider the Organizational Health Model – the 12 vital factors are all causally linked and this approach supports them to effectively address the areas of:

·        Leadership

·        Staff wellness

·        Succession planning

·        Trust and respect

·        Communication

·        Work-home balance

·        Training effectiveness

·        Vision

·        Rewards and recognition

·        Ability to adapt

·        Employee commitment and teamwork

 

All of these are central to the capacity of a group to function effectively in a healthy and productive way. With this training, participants will develop skills to help them achieve resiliency and promote these vital factors.

 

Thank you Dr. Fisher & Meaghan!

 

 

 

 

Reflections from our team members

As you may know, TEND Academy is composed of a team of highly skilled, extremely dedicated professional individuals, all of whom work full time in the helping field in addition to providing training and education sessions for our little company.

At the start of this new year, I asked the TEND Academy associates to share their reflections on the work. Here are some of their words:

From Diana Tikasz, MSW, RSW: “I love a good snowstorm.  It invites us to slow down.  If we accept the invitation, we are rewarded with inherent stillness, beauty and wonder.  It creates an opportunity to pause, reflect, and reconnect.  It can be an occasion to reset ourselves and gain perspective as we gaze at each delicate snowflake falling.  As we take a second to pause,  we create awareness, and with awareness comes choice; the choice of how we wish to experience this moment and how we will step forward through the “storm”.  I wish you all the best the season has to offer and the possibility to explore the power of a pause.”

From Rebecca Brown, MSW, RSW: “As I reflect back over this past year, I am once again humbled and in awe of the amazing people I have had the privilege to meet through our connection with Vicarious Trauma and Compassion Fatigue.  I have been honoured to be in the presence of helpers and healers from such fields as Victims’ Services, Alzheimer’s Society, Special Education Teachers, Medical Staff, Educational Assistants, Probation Officers, and Camp Counsellors for Children with Cancer.  I am left with such a feeling of hope and a better appreciation for the capacity for resilience in people.  I am inspired to continue to make our workshops relevant and impactful, and it is with a renewed focus on resilience that I am looking forward to the New Year.”

and from Lori Tomalty-Nusca, RECE, RT.

“I love to do CF training sessions. I always walk away feeling that I have learned something from the audience, as I hear about different workplaces, different ideas and different aspirations to change a small part of life to make balance and self care important (as I feel it should always be). Everyone works so hard to make the lives of our clients/families better, and often we forget to celebrate the small successes that our clients have already made, because we, the helpers helped them along their journey. I especially love it when complete strangers come up to me at the end of a presentation, often with tears in their eyes, saying that they are inspired and are committed to change aspects their lives to make work/life balance better…it really is the best gift!

Happy New Year, and to all a good balance!!!”

For more information about TEND Associates, please click here.

Making Workplace Conflict Work for You: Three Key Strategies

By Meaghan Welfare, Conflict Management Practitioner

In today’s workplace we can be certain of only three things: there will be change, there will be stress and there will be conflict. It’s inevitable. As we navigate through our work days, we are confronted with conflict on different scales: perhaps someone drank the last cup of coffee and didn’t make more, maybe someone jammed the photocopier and walked away, or maybe you are experiencing bullying and harassment. The fact of the matter is that conflict has an ubiquitous influence on our working relationships. A recent survey conducted by CPP Global found that employees spend an average of 2.8 to 3.3 hours a week dealing with conflict, (low level and un-escalated conflict) and human resource workers spend upwards of 51% of their week addressing conflicts. A 1996 study demonstrated that 42% of a manager’s time is spent on conflict-related negotiations.

So, the million dollar question…What can we do about this?  While conflict is never truly preventable, we can learn effective approaches for maximizing positive outcomes and harnessing conflict to make it work for us.

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