Handling PTSD in the Workplace

Workplace

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) isn’t exactly advertised on military recruiting brochures or websites, but it is a real issue for veterans. Veterans are an asset to our country’s workplaces, especially in the defense industry. Whether working directly for the federal government or a defense contractor, they provide firsthand insight into what our military needs, as well as an appreciation for the mission of the Department of Defense (DoD).

Combat leaves an impact and sometimes a scar. If that’s your story, you should not feel obligated to share your story with your office, but you should know that in addition to counseling with places like the Veterans Affairs, if you need to, you can make some basic adjustments at work.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), your employer cannot fire or harass you for your PTSD, and you can ask for reasonable accommodations to help you complete your work. When asking for the accommodations, you may need to disclose the reason for your requests. If you do not need major accommodations, then disclosure is not required and your requests can simply be made as preferences. It is up to you to decide if disclosure will help your work environment. Whatever your decision, know that your military service, along with your skills and education, is an asset to the defense industry. It is important to both the employer and you to find a workable solution.

The ability to continue with your daily work not only allows you to continue on the path to recovery, but it also means that your contribution continues. Memory challenges, flashbacks, concentration problems, anxiety to unexpected noises, stressful coworkers or situations do not have to derail you each week. Here are some adjustments or accommodations you can do yourself or request from your employer:

1. Create Situational awareness.

If your desk is facing a wall, making it possible for coworkers to enter the room without your awareness, ask to change your desk so that your back is to the wall or cube. Desks can be reconfigured so that you always have an idea of who is entering your office or cubicle. If the desks cannot be reconfigured, put a mirror up next to your monitor so that you are able to see when people enter.

2. Schedule breaks or request a flexible work schedule.

One way to manage stress or maintain more calm throughout your day is to manage your work and time to better fit where you are mentally. It might mean a longer work day due to multiple breaks; however, if it helps maintain more calm throughout the day as you interact with stressful coworkers or clients, it’s worth it.

3. Set up an outside, and possibly an inside lifeline.

When stress hits, have a plan. Have a friend or two or a counselor outside of work that you can call to talk you through. If you have a trusted source internally, don’t be afraid to use it.

4. Make good use of your planning tools.

In order to help with memory or concentration struggles, make sure you are using your calendar and creating manageable to-do lists. On the plus side, you will look extra organized to those around you. Scheduling your day and breaking tasks down to subtasks will help you keep tabs on everything even if your brain feels foggy.

5. Reduce distractions.

You may need to request an office location change if it’s in a high traffic area. Or you can invest in a speaker to play music, change your lighting, or close your office door, if you have one. Sometimes getting into the office before everyone else provides a less stressful commute, along with a quieter work environment.

Service to the U.S. is more than the years in the military. The country is indebted to its service members and veterans. Adjusting work environments or hours is useful to every employee on the team. It is important to push for your rights so that your voice continues to be heard, especially in the defense industry. In almost every case your employer is happy to adjust to your preferences or needs – but you have to convey them.

Jillian Hamilton has worked in a variety of Program Management roles for multiple Federal Government contractors. She has helped manage projects in training and IT. She received her Bachelors degree in Business with an emphasis in Marketing from Penn State University and her MBA from the University of Phoenix.

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