N’cho Behavioral Group Executive Director Hammad S. N’cho

Offering staff trauma-informed support amid unrest

How to meet staff’s emotional needs in a changing work landscape.

October 24, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic and civil unrest of 2020 forced leaders across all industries, including credit unions, to examine their trauma-informed services.

According to N’cho Behavioral Group Executive Director Hammad S. N’cho, a trauma-informed approach is crucial to creating a supportive work environment. It requires focusing on employees’ mental health when shaping policy. 

“Being a leader at this highly unpredictable time comes with a great many questions and a great deal of stress,” he says. “Understanding how to be in the midst of a global pandemic is not at all clear,” says N’cho, who previously worked for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Epidemic Intelligence Service and conducted disaster response while serving on the U.S. Navy’s Psychiatric Rapid Intervention Team. “Even with my outbreak and disaster response training, I was scared.”

The N’cho Behavioral Group and the Filene Research Institute studied practical steps to create healthy, sustainable work environments and allow staff to feel supported amid trauma exposure. 

N’cho discussed the study’s findings and supportive policies and procedures during Filene’s “Trauma-Informed Services for Credit Union Employees” webinar. 

He cites the six methods of trauma-informed support:

1. Employee safety. Address both physical and emotional factors.

2. Trustworthiness and transparency. Communicate policies clearly, openly, and with empathy.

3. Peer support. Provide staff with safe spaces to share concerns and support each other to foster unity and build resilience.

4. Collaboration and mutuality. Engage a broad coalition of credit union staff in the process of defining problems, developing solutions, and making decisions.

5. Empowerment, voice, and choice. Recognize, value, and build on individuals’ strengths while facilitating choice within the workplace.

6. Cultural, historical, and gender issues. Make these issues integral to policy development to ensure policies are not discriminatory.

“Take a moment and process the emotional impact of these experiences because it ultimately impacts efficiency,” N’cho says.

‘Take a moment and process the emotional impact of these experiences because it ultimately impacts efficiency.’
Hammad N’cho

He says creating a trauma-informed atmosphere requires leaders to:

  • Lead with flexibility.  Communicate openly and often with stakeholders, especially as new information emerges. Talk with other leaders to maintain camaraderie and learn from each other. 
  • Provide open, two-way communication.  Deliver clear, honest, and open communication to reduce uncertainty and offset fears.
  • Support sense- and decision-making.  Use teams to pool knowledge from disparate sources of experience and expertise (both internal and external) to generate novel, improvised solutions.
  • Focus on mental health. When crafting policy, consider mental health and work to avoid the possibility of retraumatizing staff.
  • Focus on staff from marginalized communities.  Work to understand how stressors are compounded for marginalized communities, facilitate dialogue to expand awareness and identify specific needs, and tie these efforts to your diversity, equity, and inclusion plan.
  • Execute an equitable return-to-office (RTO) plan. Address unique differences that can improve the implementation of an equitable RTO policy. Rely on the insight of staff supervisors.
  • Reduce stigma.  Ensure your work environment is free from the negative impacts of COVID-19 stigma.
  • Provide infrastructure to support mental health and well-being.  Provide access to health care and training for education and mental health management, exercise, and relaxation. Foster peer support networks and incorporate mental health considerations into new policies.
  • Navigate the “new normal” with flexibility.  Expect emotional shifts and impacts from newly emerging ways of living and working, and help staff re-create healthy structures and routines.
  • Identify opportunities for post-traumatic growth.  Approach the disruption and rapid changes from the pandemic as a learning opportunity to identify organizational strengths.
  • While credit unions do their best to establish support, trauma-informed support methods are constantly shifting. 

    Actionable steps leaders can take now include using employee assistance programs, creating an inclusive workplace culture, allowing staff to talk with leaders, showing staff appreciation and recognition, helping staff manage their work/life balance, and building connectedness among staff.