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  • Writer's pictureJosh Levine

Navigating the DC Library's Journey to Workplace Resilience by Cultivating a Trauma-Informed Culture

Updated: Sep 7, 2023

People carry the effects of past trauma whether they realize it or not. That includes work. After the shared experience of COVID-19, we’ve started acknowledging the existence of these feelings and their impact on our interactions. However, even as companies offer mental health days and therapy as benefits, most leaders don't understand the responsibility and opportunity of helping employees acknowledge, understand, and address trauma. Not because it is the right thing to do but because unaddressed hurt is a drag on productivity and an accelerant of turnover.

Early in 2023, the DC Public Library executive team decided it was time to address the problem of trauma across their system. The journey to that realization began in 2020 with a staff report identifying a lack of understanding of the organization’s purpose and values. Shortly thereafter, we were asked to work with a team of the library’s culture ambassadors to develop and launch those, which you can read more about here.

The launch of these organizational touchstones continued through a series of cultural conversations. These small-scale work sessions with library staff were hosted to connect the purpose and values to behaviors. Feedback was also gathered, revealing continued issues with peer interactions and the customer population rooted in individual, organizational, and community trauma.

With this pain now evident and documented, the library Executive Management Team asked Great Mondays to collaborate with trauma-informed care specialist Adrienne Wise to evaluate the situation and recommend a plan.

To establish the importance of Trauma-Informed Care principles, we began by integrating them into the existing culture framework. Each Value had a natural pairing with a principle. The value of Give and Get Respect is supported by the TIC principles of “Trustworthiness & Transparency”; The value of “Be a We” is presented alongside “Collaboration & Mutuality.”

Next, we determined with library leadership that we needed to help staff understand what productive interactions informed by the TIC principles looked like. We created and shared stories of healthy interactions through success scenarios. *insert example*

By documenting these scenarios, we could point to specific choices and why each principle matters.

Finally, we designed and facilitated a manager activation training to introduce the new expectations by creating awareness and understanding of Trauma-Informed Care at the library.

Trauma is a challenge that takes time for individuals to address. Within an organization, that is true, but more so. The library plans to take the materials we created and begin spreading the knowledge and practices across all 600+ employees. It will take years to make progress truly, but the leaders have decided that not addressing this endemic is a non-starter they aren’t willing to return to.

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