The Traumatic Stress Institute fosters the transformation of organizations and service systems to trauma-informed care (TIC) through the delivery of whole-system consultation, professional training, coaching, and research.
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Trauma-Informed Care and Productivity Standards

February 18, 2021 / by Patricia D. Wilcox, LCSW

Every agency that implements trauma-informed care wonders about an apparent conflict with productivity standards. For example, one of our clients asked: “Have you yet to encounter a system that has figured out how to make productivity standards and trauma informed care co-exist? I am starting to feel that it isn't possible, as productivity standards are what provide revenue for agencies and programs but also are the reason why a work-life balance feels unimaginable.”
These two are neither opposites nor mutually incompatible. In fact, good trauma-informed care should ultimately improve productivity.In thinking about this subject, the organization should first consider the productivity standards. Having unrealistic, inhumane productivity standards is expensive for an agency in two ways:

  • Turnover. We know that turnover is very expensive for the agency, when you include the cost of advertising, interviewing, time and productivity lost in between employees, and employment expenses such as physicals and background checks.

  • Less Effective Services. Workers who are over-stressed, exhausted, and experiencing intense vicarious traumatization cannot provide skillful and compassionate services to their clients. The treaters can only avoid this state if their job includes time to talk with others, and to rest, think, and connect. Providing less-engaged services results in more no-shows and more premature dropouts.

When you consider these costs, establishing humane productivity standards makes good financial sense.

So those are the costs, but how does trauma-informed care (TIC) improve services delivery and result in more ability to meet productivity standards?

  • A key belief of TIC is that our staff cannot treat their clients better than they themselves are treated. A treater who feels connected, appreciated and safe is calmer and more creative. A treater who is connected to their team and feels that other people have their back is less likely to become panicked and fearful, and then excessively controlling, when a client is dysregulated.

  • Implementing TIC leads an agency to examine many of its practices, such as hiring, supervision, team functioning, benefits, discipline, etc. If after TIC implementation employees feel safer, more appreciated, and more connected, they are much better able to offer compassionate, skillful care to their clients. From that care flows better outcomes and fewer negative or premature discharges.

  • Addressing vicarious traumatization (VT). Implementing TIC leads the agency to change the culture so that recognizing and discussing VT is seen as a strength. Employees are given forums and space to share the effects the work is having on them. The agency institutes strategies to decrease VT such as retreats, employee recognition, rituals, social events, and mental health benefits. The organization promotes self-care and offers opportunities such as lunch-time yoga. Supervision focuses on employee growth and development. Administration is careful to offer employees voice and choice, the ability to impact both their own work and that of the agency. The opportunity to acknowledge VT and utilize strategies to recover from it produces a work force that is more hopeful and energetic--and less likely to leave.

Hopeful, energetic, skillful, and connected employees are more able to offer the best possible help and healing to their clients. Therefore, the agency’s reputation is enhanced by better outcomes. There is less turnover. There more positive discharges.  And all of these changes together enhance the financial health of the agency.


Tags: Whole-System Change

Patricia D. Wilcox, LCSW

Written by Patricia D. Wilcox, LCSW

Patricia D. Wilcox, LCSW, is Vice President of Strategic Development at Klingberg Family Centers and specializes in treatment of traumatized children and their families. She created the Restorative Approach™ , a trauma- and relationship-based treatment method. She is also a Faculty Trainer for Risking Connection® and an Adjunct Faculty at both the University of CT School of Social Work and St. Joseph’s University. She travels nationally to train treaters on trauma-informed care, specializing in improving the daily life of treatment programs.