Tips for managing a workplace trauma response: False sense of urgency

Sample language: “Hi, Sandra. I’m sorry the report I sent over wasn’t quite right. Since it’s not due for another week, I plan to work on revising it Friday so I can get a few time-sensitive things off my plate before then. Thank you for understanding.”

First, ask yourself: Is this actually a crisis? Sometimes, especially when we are triggered or worried that we have messed up, things that do not need to be solved immediately may feel more urgent. When we feel we need to respond quickly, emotions can get heated or our decision-making can be clouded. If it’s not a crisis, slow the roll. Wait a few hours or a day before responding so you can reply after grounding and getting clear-headed. Email a suggested timeline that works for you. It can be scary to do that, because we worry that our best will not be good enough. However, for many supervisors and colleagues, a product being a little later than hoped is far less frustrating when you know when to expect it by. Rather than rush and stay discombobulated, offer a realistic expectation for when you will be done.

Sample language: “Hi, Alex. The situation with the vendor sounds so frustrating! I’m sorry you’re having to deal with that this week. Unfortunately, I don’t have the capacity to support you on this project right now, but hope you’re able to get it sorted out.”

Second, ask yourself: Is managing this crisis my job? Someone else’s poor planning is not your emergency. Unless you work in crisis response, do not take on the extra labor of crisis management. You are not responsible for fixing someone else’s mistakes or doing their jobs for them. Survivors want to feel useful in the workplace, often because we fear we won’t be valued if we aren’t able to do everything asked of us. If someone asks if you can help with something that isn’t in your job description, don’t sacrifice your wellbeing or job performance to be “helpful.” When we rush in to “save” our coworkers from their challenges, it often comes at the expense of our own work performance or wellbeing. Work starts to feel overwhelming because we’re trying to do our workload and someone else’s. Burnout is more likely. If you are unsure what is your job and what is not, ask your supervisor to review your job description with you so you can set appropriate and healthy boundaries around your workplace capacity.

Sample language: “Dear Tiera, This morning I realized that I replied to the funder about your project. I apologize for not checking in with you first. It’s important to me that our collaborations feel coordinated, so moving forward, I’ll check in with you beforehand to make sure it aligns with your vision for the event. Please let me know if there is anything else you need from me to ensure that I’m working in synergy with your project goals.”

Finally, ask yourself: Am I feeling panicked because I made a mistake? Often, survivors working in anti-trafficking organizations are “under the microscope” and afraid we must be perfect. We have to be twice as good as non-survivors (at least) to get the same levels of recognition. We are often carrying the extra weight of being seen by our coworkers as representing all survivors in the workplace, and we try to prove ourselves by being perfect. This is unrealistic, and can lead to panic over mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. Making mistakes is a normal part of how we learn. Most of the time, a mistake an employee makes is less significant than how they respond to it and what they learn from it. If you make a mistake, you may make it worse if you try to hide it, rush to a solution, or fix it before anyone notices. Don’t panic, take a deep breath, acknowledge the mistake, and be part of the solution. Ask for help when you needed. Being seen as someone who knows how to take accountability for, acknowledge, and repair mistakes is far better than being seen as someone who pretends to be perfect.