Supporting Employees with PTSD: Accommodations That Can Help Your Workers With Combat Stress - And Your BusinessMichael Reardon
February 17, 2009 — 4,384 views
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It's one of the signature conditions of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and by many accounts, a great deal of returning service members will be coping with the effects of PTSD as they transition to civilian life. For employers, that brings up some important questions - among them, what should they expect from employees with PTSD, and how can they support them in the workplace.
It's true that veterans - and anyone experiencing the effects of PTSD - may face day-to-day difficulties in their work environment. However, employers can play a vital role in these individuals' recovery by recognizing the challenges associated with PTSD and making adjustments and reasonable accommodations to help ensure workplace success. And disabled veterans aren't the only ones that stand to benefit from the implementation of workplace supports. Veterans are known to make excellent employees, so helping them succeed on the job can not only contribute to the veteran's recovery - it can positively impact a business's bottom line.
People with PTSD may experience some of the limitations discussed in this article, however they seldom will develop all of them. The severity of the combat stress and degree of limitation will vary among individuals. Employers should be aware that not all people with PTSD will need accommodations to perform their jobs, and many others may only need a few accommodations. However, in many cases, simple, inexpensive workplace supports can make all the difference toward a successful employment experience.
Employers should also know that unless the employee reveals, or makes available information, that they have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress, the employer will not necessarily know whether the condition is present. In fact, job applicants do not have to disclose a disability on a job application, or in a job interview, unless they need an accommodation to assist them in the application or interview process. Employers can learn more about their responsibilities under state and federal disability laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), by contacting the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) by phone (1-800-526-7234) or online at www.jan.wvu.edu.
Prior to implementing workplace accommodations for employees with post-traumatic stress, employers should ask themselves the following questions:
- What limitations is the employee with PTSD experiencing, and how do these limitations affect the employee's job performance?
- What specific job tasks are problematic as a result of these limitations?
- What accommodations are available to reduce or eliminate these problems?
- Has the employee with PTSD been consulted regarding possible accommodations?
- Do supervisory personnel and employees need training regarding PTSD and workplace accommodations?
Once they have considered these questions, employers and human resource professionals will be poised to identify appropriate workplace supports that can help those with PTSD succeed on the job. The following represents only a sample of the types of accommodations and/or adjustments an employer might consider for an employee experiencing combat stress.
- Provide written instructions
- Post written instructions for use of equipment
- Use a wall calendar
- Use a daily or weekly task list
- Provide verbal prompts and reminders
- Use electronic organizers or hand held devices
- Allow the employee to tape record meetings
- Provide written minutes of each meeting
- Allow additional training time
Lack of Concentration:
- Reduce distractions in the work environment
- Provide space enclosures or a private space
- Allow for the use of white noise or environmental sound machines
- Allow the employee to play soothing music using a music player and a headset
- Increase natural lighting or increase full spectrum lighting
- Divide large assignments into smaller goal-oriented tasks or steps
- Plan for uninterrupted work time
Time Management/Performing or Completing Tasks:
- Make daily "TO-DO" lists and check items off as they are completed
- Divide large assignments into smaller tasks and steps
- Schedule weekly meetings with supervisor, manager or mentor to determine if goals are being met
- Remind employee of important deadlines via memos or e-mail
- Use calendars to mark meetings and deadlines
- Use electronic organizers
- Hire a professional organizer or organizational coach
- Assign a mentor to assist the employee
Coping with Stress:
- Allow longer or more frequent work breaks
- Provide back-up coverage for when the employee needs to take breaks
- Provide additional time to learn new responsibilities
- Restructure job to include only essential functions
- Allow time off for counseling
- Assign a supervisor, manager or mentor to answer employee's questions
Working Effectively with a Supervisor:
- Give assignments, instructions or training in writing or via e-mail - Provide detailed day-to-day guidance and feedback
- Provide positive reinforcement
- Provide clear expectations and the consequences of not meeting expectations
- Develop strategies to deal with problems
Interacting with Co-workers:
- Encourage the employee to walk away from frustrating situations and confrontations
- Allow employee to work from home part-time
- Provide partitions or closed doors to allow for privacy - Provide disability awareness training to coworkers and supervisors
Dealing with Emotions:
- Refer to employee assistance programs (EAP)
- Use stress management techniques to deal with frustration
- Allow the use of a support animal
- Allow telephone calls during work hours to doctors and others for needed support
- Allow frequent breaks
- Allow the employee to work one consistent schedule
- Allow for a flexible start time
- Combine regularly scheduled short breaks into one longer break
- Provide a place for the employee to sleep during break
Muscle Tension or Fatigue:
- Build in "stretch breaks" during the workday
- Allow private space to meditate or do yoga
- Allow time off for physical therapy or massage therapy
- Encourage use of the company's wellness program
- Allow for a flexible start time or end time, or work from home
- Provide straight shift or permanent schedule
- Modify attendance policy (e.g., count one occurrence for all PTSD-related absences, or allow the employee to make up the time missed)
- Consider allowing telework on occasion
- Allow the employee to take a break and go to a place where s/he feels comfortable to use relaxation techniques or contact a support person
- Identify and remove environmental triggers such as particular smells or noises
- Allow the presence of a support animal
- Provide alternative lighting
- Take breaks from computer work or from reading print material
- Practice stress-relieving techniques
Information & Technical Assistance
Recognizing the needs of businesses that employ our wounded and injured veterans, the U.S. Department of Labor recently unveiled America's Heroes at Work, a unique initiative designed to help employers support veterans who are coping with PTSD, as well as Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). America's Heroes at Work equips businesses and the workforce development system with free fact sheets, reference guides, training modules and a toll-free helpline (800-526-7234) designed to offer guidance on workplace supports that can help disabled veteran employees succeed on the job.
For more information, visit www.AmericasHeroesAtWork.gov.
About the Author
Michael Reardon is a senior policy advisor in the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy, and a manager of America's Heroes at Work, a unique initiative designed to help employers support veterans with PTSD, as well as Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). For more information and free technical assistance, visit http://www.AmericasHeroesAtWork.gov or call the Job Accommodation Network (800-526-7234).