Using Study Circles in the Workplace as an Educational Method of Facilitating Readjustment After a Traumatic Life Experience
Barski-Carrow, Barbara III
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Employees who have had a traumatic life experience (TLE) and are returning to the workplace face a difficult road to recovery. The workplace as it exists today is not well equipped to handle such individuals. Managers and co-workers lack knowledge of a recovery framework to facilitate and support the survivor-employee's re-entry. This research addressed the development of a cost-free short-term adult educational intervention called Study Circles to assist both managers and co-workers in understanding the dynamics of recovery for individuals after a traumatic life experience (TLE). Herman's (1992) three stage recovery process is used as a model for the Study Circle intervention: (1) Establishing a safety net, (2) Telling the trauma story and (3) Reconnecting the individual back to the work community. As an educational intervention, this Study Circle is designed to complement any individual or psychotherapeutic intervention for TLE survivors. This research considered these questions: (1) How can Study Circles be designed and used to engage managers in a discussion of the problems of returning TLEs? (2) How can Study Circles be designed for and used by managers and co-workers to facilitate the TLEs re-entry? (3) Does a manager having previous experience with a TLE in the workplace engage more easily and intensively in a dialogue with a TLE than managers without such experience? (4) What examples of group-participation dynamics are likely to occur during such a Study Circle? (5) How open are managers to dialogue with a TLE in the workplace? (6) Does the environment and setting of a government agency have relevance for Study Circles in assisting managers to help returning TLEs? The research clearly showed that Study Circles can and do work successfully in the workplace especially in a government agency. Two groups of Study Circles (Group A and Group B), conducted during the lunch hour, attracted both managers and employees. The lunch hour served as an excellent time for Study Circle sessions since it did not interrupt the work schedule of the participants. Each Study Circle program consisted of three sessions where participants, managers and returning TLEs, engaged in open dialogue and discussed questions pertaining to creating a "safety net", "telling the trauma story" and "reconnecting the employee to the workplace." Each session provided insights to the participants on the issues and concerns managers may have in "welcoming" a returning TLE to the workplace, along with feedback from returning TLEs on the expectations they have of managers and the organization. These sessions provided an opportunity to explore uncharted territory in the organization, that of bringing a sensitive topic to the workplace and openly talking about its effect on management and its employees. Both Study Circle groups were different. Group A was homogeneous and shared more feelings and suggested that the organization needed "guidelines to assist managers" in their task. On the other hand, group B managers did not share their stories or experiences with the group, but encouraged the organization to focus on training its managers to "communicate" better and learn "active listening skills." Although Group B managers were not as open as group A managers, the employees in both groups were equally open and eager to share their stories with the other participants. Both groups created their own group culture engaging not only in the session's topic but other pertinent issues relative to manager/employee concerns such as acknowledging differences (each TLE will be different), communicating more openly, and recognizing performance issues when the TLE returns to the workplace. It was concluded that to appropriately welcome a returning TLE employee, managers did not need to have previous experience in dealing with a returning TLE. Their success in this depended on the individual and his/her career experience, how comfortable they felt in engaging the returning TLE, and the managers own personal experience with trauma. Although the Study Circle format has been extensively used in community meetings, church groups and home study groups, it has only rarely been tried in workplace settings. These Study Circles proved that this adult educational process applied in business and corporate settings with business and corporate settings with excellent results.
- Doctoral Dissertations