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Candidates All Have PTSD Part 1: Managing Candidates (And Employees) During the Great Resignation

Updated: Jul 22, 2022

This will be a 3 part series covering PTSD and the workplace. I have a team. Not of robots, of humans. Every one of them has a life outside of work, and a life before I met them. They have all had a job before working for me, even the most junior of people. That life and those jobs, bosses, employers, customers, experiences have shaped them into the person I hired. The one I wanted. I said yes, they said yes. And now the real work begins.

Managing a team is a complex dance of responsibilities, tasks, communication, coaching, listening, and adapting.

If every employee is treated the same, they will leave. All of them. The Great Resignation is more about how you manage your team than any other single thing. Sure, some leave for money, others to follow a new passion, and yes, you never begrudge them for that. But more often than not if they are leaving, it’s because of you. It’s your management, your responsibility delegation, your failure to recognize each individual for who they are. There are endless books written about understanding each person’s personality. Their innate strengths and weaknesses. What motivates them? But for all you psychology majors out there, this construct forgets the most important of systems. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Maslow is right.

You can’t focus on getting that last 10% of greatness out of employees if you haven’t addressed their most basic needs. Do they feel safe? Do they go into everyday thinking ‘today is the day I get fired’?

In the work environment, physiology (food and housing) is intrinsically tied to safety. Safety in the workplace is job security. Job security is tied in part to how the company is doing and in part in how the manager makes the employee feel.

Employees are not resources. (Louder for the people in the back.)

Feelings are part of the human condition. As are having families and having health crises and sometimes needing to go to the bank or the pharmacy. When we see our employees as resources that we can give or take their presence, or worse when we see employees as resources that we control, that translates into employees who are consistently unsure if they will have a job tomorrow.

If the Great Resignation has taught us anything it’s that this is a great wake up call for employers – employees leave for money, sure, but start looking because they are unhappy. They are looking because they aren’t challenged, because they have a terrible boss, or because the work is killing them. But those are all fancy ways to say, they leave because you don’t treat them as whole people.

Understanding PTSD in the workplace While many employees do not have PTSD as you might understand it and might see with folks who have been in war or in truly traumatic circumstances, all circumstances are relative. To get the most out of your employees you must first satisfy those most basic needs. Their job security is safe, we will keep paying them even if they make a mistake, or have to take an unexpected day off for a sick child or parent or themselves. I’ve seen so many versions of it, you can’t begin to label them all.

Behaviors such as:

  • Asking when they know the answer

  • Afraid to take risks

  • Asking permission to use the bathroom, take a day off, take a vacation, take time off for their own wedding, or for a family funeral

  • Hearing condescending language as intentional

  • Fear of telling managers they will miss a deadline

  • Concern about having their child home while they work

  • Doing what they have been told, but no more

  • Always going up to their manager to deal with cross departmental issues

And the list goes on. And it’s okay. To manage through this effectively, you have to have managers who understand the human condition, who understand they hired a whole person, and trying to get that extra 10% of greatness is a fool’s errand if you haven’t first made them feel happy and whole in their current situation.

You need leaders who don’t make employees get permission to take a day off or to go pick their sick child up from daycare.

Leaders like that are trained, with coaching and with examples. This one starts at the top and it shows.

How does employee PTSD manifest in the recruitment process?

Well that’s the fun part. Most people are incredibly skilled at hiding what their particular vulnerabilities and insecurities are for the few hours of interviewing. And hiring managers are generally focused on skills match and personality match and miss any signs of PTSD, but really it doesn’t matter, because everyone has this quirk…it just manifests uniquely. Where companies and hiring managers really set themselves apart is by being upfront in the recruiting process that they are hiring whole people, that they embrace employees as humans, flawed with families and histories and unexpected occurrences. Companies that embrace values that exemplify employees as humans have a distinct advantage in this race for talent.

And then the key piece, the piece de resistance, let your future employees interview with your current employees – the people who work for the manager they will be working with. Have your current employees bring their whole selves to the interview – share how they are supported. Let them be the voice of the business.

The interview, not your career site, is your core values, your principles, and how your future employees will see the business.

Happy Sourcing!

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