(Written by Julie Sharp, FEI Account Manager)

In 1998, Kaiser Permanente and the CDC collaborated on a groundbreaking research study with implications for every sector of society, including the workplace. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Study linked childhood trauma to a higher risk of chronic disease, social and emotional problems, depression, suicidality, and violence (both as a perpetrator and a victim).

The study asked over 17,000 people about their experiences of abuse, neglect, domestic violence, substance abuse, mental illness or incarceration in the family. The results indicated that repeated exposure to trauma in childhood has a significant impact on an individual’s developing body and brain. A great synopsis on ACEs can be seen in Dr. Nadine Burke-Harris’ TED Talk video.

From ACEs Too High, the ACE Study uncovered five main findings:

  • ACEs are common. 64 percent of people have at least one.
  • They have implications for health and well-being across the lifespan.
  • They often occur together. If you have one, you are 87 percent more likely to have two or more.
  • The more ACEs you have, the greater the risk for physical and emotional issues. People with ACE scores higher than six have a higher risk of their lifespan being shortened by 20 years!
  • ACEs contribute significantly to workplace absenteeism, health care costs, mental health, emergency response and the criminal justice system.

The good news is that organizations, agencies and employers across the country are becoming more aware of the impact of ACEs and are integrating trauma-informed and resilience-based practices into their culture. In fact, the entire town of Tarpon Springs, FL has adopted a trauma-informed approach to building community and addressing the city’s social and economic issues!

The Alliance for Strong Families and Communities, for which FEI is a social enterprise, is at the forefront of the movement to integrate trauma-responsive practices and policy into our society. As part of this initiative, the Alliance will be presenting a webinar on the Neuroscience Behind Supporting New Parents and Children on February 10. FEI’s Workplace Violence Prevention Program focuses on building a respectful and resilient workforce, integrating a trauma-informed perspective into all levels of the program.

Research is also showing that the brain is able to change, grow and overcome many of the challenges caused by traumatic stress in childhood. Practices such as mindfulness, regular exercise, nutrition, quality sleep and positive relationships all contribute to developing resilience and restoring the brain to its intended state.

How might ACEs show up at work? In a recent conference of EAP professionals, Dr. Jude Miller-Burke listed common workplace “triggers” to be aware of:

  • Tone of voice
  • Touching
  • Authority roles
  • Arguments
  • Neediness
  • Weak boundaries
  • Responses to deadlines
  • Unhealthy competitiveness

Dr. Miller-Burke suggests understanding and managing our own triggers and working toward a “gentler and kinder workplace culture.” Managers can coach employees on communication skills and conflict resolution skills, practice “compassionate accountability,” and encourage employees to utilize their EAP.

To discuss how EAP can assist managers in facilitating a more resilient and trauma-responsive workplace, please contact your EAP Account Manager.