Business continuity, trauma, and recognising the new threat…

Many of us are familiar with ‘business continuity’ – threat analysis, business impact analysis, solution design (and testing) are now considered key to maintaining systems and services during periods of high threat such as spate conditions, direct, or indirect attack or strain.

Quite how these concepts transpose into the realm of mental health, however, is seemingly a mystery for many organisations.

Let’s consider for a moment some key components of a robust & systematic psychological continuity strategy that would enable your organisation to function effectively through, and in the aftermath of a critical Incident:

  • Has your organisation carried out a robust psychological threat analysis?
  • Has an evidence-based business impact analysis been produced?
  • What is your maximum tolerated period of disruption?
  • What is your organisations recovery point objective?
  • What is your recovery time objective?

If you can adequately demonstrate answers to the above questions – congratulations!

However, if you haven’t a clue, but you’re aware of your of your organisations’ commitment to ‘awareness’ campaigns of one sort or another, then you’re part of a majority that needs to improve.

Integrative approaches to business continuity are now becoming the norm, however, when it comes to psychological well-being, we are tending more and more to rely on committed and well-meaning ‘champions’, and awareness campaigns which encourage people to ‘talk’ and accept that it’s ‘ok not to be ok’. This is all well and good, and there is much value in encouraging communications, undoubtedly.

However, such ‘sticking plasters’ cannot and will not therefore effectively mitigate the serious disruption resulting from poor psychological health and well-being.

As we know, stress, trauma, depression and anxiety are the cause of major loss manifest in absenteeism, but¬†evidence gathered during our very real-world experience of the London terror attacks and Grenfell Tower disaster, point clearly to a new concept that must be recognised if it is to be understood, and therefore managed – ‘presenteeism’.

The evidence is clear – while we’ve all been worried about our colleagues who are off work, we’ve been completely oblivious to those still ‘at’ work, enduring trauma quietly, and unobtrusively, in fear.

‘Managing’ it alone – praying that they don’t get discovered, and all the time making key business decisions from the perspective of traumatic avoidance.

Imagine the traumatised incident commander, deciding whether or not to commit firefighters into a high threat environment – would trauma-based risk aversion influence the quality of risk assessment, and situational awareness? Evidence suggests it would, and with that, comes risk. Risk for organisation, and risk for the public, its customers.

These are deep concepts, and require a trauma-informed perspective to consider effectively.

What is clear though, is a requirement for a continuity strategy that supports psychological well-being at a deep infrastructural level is required if high-threat organisations are to not only survive critical incidents, but recover in such a way as to prevent future work-streams being perverted by the legacy of trauma.

The strain of absence due to trauma can great, but it is observable and therefore manageable.

The strain of presenteeism is far harder to observe and so is far harder to quantify, but the benefits of doing so are potentially huge.

Organisations therefore, should demand more from their employee assistance programs.

What outcomes are measured and returned to the employer when a member of staff is returned to work?

Does your counselling service provide any clear data regarding outcome against investment? Or, as is often the case, does your organisation simply send its staff off to the counsellor and measure success by a return to work?

The time has come to think a little deeper, and to grasp what is reasonably foreseeable in terms of trauma and long term business impact.

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©2019 Dr John Durkin