Jan 11, 2014

What is PTBD?

You’ve heard of PTSD, Post traumatic Stress Disorder, but have you ever heard of PTBD, Post Traumatic Business Disorder? Like PTSD, PTBD involves either a single traumatic event that causes an immediate negative change, or a series of events that build up to cause the negatives to become exponential.  I invite you to read this post and think about whether your organization is experiencing PTBD.

Because top-producers are highly valued in organizations, many times they are allowed to create PTBD in an organization.  Consider it.  The top-producer brings in more money or produces more widgets than anyone else.  Organizational policy states that certain behaviors aren’t tolerated, such sexual harassment, taking company property, speaking against company leadership, etc.  Yet, the top-producer acts against organizational policy and the behavior is reported to the proper leadership in the company.  That person in leadership is financially affected by the work the top-producer performs, so what happens?  This skews the reaction to the report of the improper behavior.  It may be dismissed as being a vivid imagination of the person reporting the behavior.  It may be shrugged-off as a one-time event.  Or, there may be some other rationalization for the unacceptable behavior.  It’s not important what rationale is used by the leadership of the organization, what is important are the effects.  Other employees lose motivation because the rules don’t apply to a certain few.  They feel undervalued.  Some feel fear; fear of what the top-performer might get away with toward them and fear of retaliation from the leadership for exposing the person.  Productivity drops from all those around the top-performer, making the top-performer look even better and those around them looking worse.  Sick days are being taken more than ever before.  There is constant stress in the air, causing co-workers to be distant and short with each other.  Some become emotionally numb.  And, it’s as if all the innovativeness and creativeness have left the building.  The company’s leadership has forgotten that “the good of the many outweighs the good of the few, or the one”.

Whether it was single event that caused this to happen, or a build up of many events, the organization is now suffering Post Traumatic Business Disorder.  Like PTSD that enslaves its victims to fear; fear of remembering, fear of the event happening again, fear of letting their guard down, even fear of sleeping, PTBD puts a stranglehold on the organization.  Here are some of the problems PTSD/PTBD can cause:

  • Lack of interest in life and emotionally numb
  • Stomach and/or intestinalproblems
  • Gynecological (female) problems
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Pain, for example, in back, neck, or pelvic area
  • Headaches
  • Skin rashes and other skin problems
  • Lack of energy; feel tired all the time
  • Alcohol, drug, or other substance use problems
  • Depression
  • Anxiety or worry, possibly accompanied by panic attacks

If you read this and scoff at the information, then you have either never experienced a traumatic event at work, or you choose not to assign the detrimental effects to such events, believing that people just need to ‘get over it’.  Unfortunately, the example above is only one of many that what can cause PTBD in an organization.  There are many more and here are a few:

  • Insolvency or instability of the company
  • Lay-offs and terminations, especially of Key People
  • Taking away promotions and lowering of job assignments
  • Mergers and acquisitions, especially if it’s your company that’s being acquired!
  • Shake-up in leadership
  • Taking a company public
  • Quick growth

Think about it, what are some other examples you can identify that causes Post Traumatic Business Disorder in your company?

Because almost every organization has experienced PTBD, the question needs to be asked, “What do we do now?”  To start an efficient process to overcome the damaging affects of PTBD:

  • Make a realistic assessment of the situation.  Don’t make it worse than it is and don’t make it “pie in the sky”.
  • Find out where the problem originates.  Is it with an individual?  Is it somewhere in the company’s hierarchy?  Could it be in the mission, vision, and values statements of the company…or even what they exclude?
  • Assist those that were affected by the event(s) to find stability.  This could take many forms and may include one or all of the following:

Communicate in-person with those affected

Show appropriate empathy

Be transparent and honest

Don’t minimize what has happened or their reaction to it

If changes are needed to prevent the event(s) from happening again, layout what those changes are and how the person will be positively impacted

As you look again at the events listed, one common theme to preventing most of the negative lash-back is transparent communication.  Just Like PTSD, PTBD is caused by the unexpectedness and immediacy of the event(s), which causes a negative, neuron-warping effect.  Open, transparent communication of an impending corporate event can alleviate much of the PTBD effect.  Certainly not all events, like sexual or physical assault, can be predicted.  But, companies with the right cultures will minimze the potential for those and be prepared when they do happen.

So, I’ll shortlist companies’ abilities to avoid PTBD in all it’s forms:

  • Have strong mission, vision, and values statements that include ethical behavior, transparency, open communication, trust, respect, honesty, and a zero-tolerance or at least a due process if these are violated.
  • Educate everyone in the company about those statements through handbooks, training and living them, especially in the Executive Leadership Team and others in leadership roles in the organization.
  • Have an open-door policy with a no-retaliation clause for whistleblowers.

With these in place organizations can severely restrict the potential for PTBD and, more important, build a system of trust that will positively impact all aspects of people-performance!