Preparing your organization for post-traumatic growth

Research shows that the vast majority of those who experience stress will also experience growth. Here's how to create space for both pain and gain in your organization.

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Ananya was an IT specialist for a pharmaceutical company and part of the team that helped ensure 24/7 support for hardware issues across the enterprise. Her company had been experiencing record profits and sustained growth for a number of years when a promising clinical trial unexpectedly had to be aborted in a very public, painful way. Almost overnight, everything changed. Stock in the company tanked and leadership went into crisis mode. Several phases of belt-tightening measures were put in place, including a reduction in force.

Ananya survived the first round of cuts but she was greatly impacted as she saw friends and co-workers lose their jobs. She began to lose sleep and have difficulty concentrating. To make matters worse, the timing of the crisis overlapped with a downturn in the economy and she worried about losing her job.

Although her name is anonymized, and her story is a few years old now, drawn from interviews done as part of a university research project, Ananya's experience is familiar to many of us, and whether or not you’ve been through a similar experience, you likely know someone who has.

These kinds of job-related experiences often come with their own versions of post-traumatic stress (PTS). Jeffrey Pfeffer, professor of organizational behavior at Stanford, notes in his book Dying for a Paycheck that the kind of situation Ananya experienced can lead to decreases in health and increases in unhealthy behaviors and mortality.

Fortunately, that's not the end of the story.

Finding growth after stress

While stress can be a natural response to trauma, the human capacity for resilience can also lead to post-traumatic growth (PTG). PTG is the transformative positive change that can occur as a result of struggles with adversity.  There are five factors associated with PTG: how you relate to others, to what extent you are able to see new possibilities, your perception of your own personal strength, changes in your spiritual well-being, and your appreciation for life. Researchers from Oxford University indicate that up to 70% of those who experience stress from traumatic events will also experience growth.

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