Trauma never sleeps
It is 3:01am and I cannot sleep. In a previous job, I experienced sustained attacks from a consulting group contracted by my employer at the time. The bullying was devastatingly traumatic.
My working day highlight was lunch time. I would go to the underground car park at the shopping centre and hide in my car while eating my sandwich. Working with this group was one of the worst experiences of my life.
I saw that I was not the only person sitting in a car. Sadly, there were many.
I resigned*. The place was just not worth it. The contracting company was bad. The lack of support and silence from my employer and colleagues was equally bad.
Soon after I left, most developers I worked with left. The floodgates were opened. The department and the really promising ideas that it was founded on was defunct. This consulting company had destroyed everything.
You can’t just leave a place like that and turn the trauma off. I spent way too much time researching what went wrong with the whole project. I extracted some great lessons that would shape later success.
One lesson - I vowed never to work with these people or for one of these consulting companies. Never. A strict “no jerks” policy.
Today, I work for a consulting company. Exactly what I said I would never do.
Cogent.co is remarkable in the way it is founded on the values of its people and totally open. It does mental health really well and encourages people to share any issues that they are struggling with. It is baked in to the company DNA. Bullying from employees or clients would never be left unaddressed.
Psychological safety is often espoused. Cogent is the first company that I have seen that has really nailed it, and is dedicated to doing better.
Today I was told that a project I was due to work on pulled out. When I was told the reason, I knew immediately who was behind it. The main source of trauma from the past still reaches out to cause harm.
I am fine. I am a resilient, strong person. I also happen to be decent at my job. Best of all, I enjoy the support of my colleagues. I do not suffer any issues from my experience, but I do have a deep sense of empathy for those that do.
But I can’t sleep tonight. I keep going over things. I keep remembering those hiding in their cars. Now I have another lesson to share. It is clear that people that cause harm will continue to do so and others may be suffering.
Here is what I would like to see. I’d like you to gradually introduce changes in your organisation. Do what Cogent has so brilliantly done. Normalise being open. Make it uneventful to share mental health stories. Share stories when everything is fine. When tough times are upon us, people will be willing to welcome help. You have to lead the way by displaying bravery and share your story.
We are not professional counsellors. Compile lists of resources people can call on for the trauma that they are facing. Reiterate these resources and the group’s commitment to openness often. Just because you have spoken many times does not mean it is understood. Make your people’s wellbeing a first class citizen.
If you do it right, you will have to face some tough issues. You may have to take action to improve the safety of the team. However, facing tough issues is what makes a team exceptional.
Resources for Mental Health
The following resources are applicable to people working in the state of Victoria, Australia
1300 22 4636
13 11 14
Family Violence — Safe Steps
1800 015 188
1800 858 858
Drug and Alcohol Support — DirectLine
1800 888 236
13 22 89
1800 825 955
- I have to thank my wife who had the strength to say “F*** them. They don’t deserve you”. I resigned the next day.
*This article was originally published on craigs.io