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Carter McNamara, then just months into his first job as a software engineer, was fed up with his boss repeatedly ignoring him, so he marched into his supervisor's office and launched into a three-minute tirade, leading with, "You suck at being a boss," and worsening from there.

McNamara's rage, he later understood, occurred during a blackout, a symptom of his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For McNamara, now nearly 70 years old, the disorder stemmed from a troubled childhood spent with his mentally ill single mother who also battled addiction.

McNamara's actions didn't translate into losing his job or enduring any discipline, and his boss actually encouraged him to find a way to control his anger. McNamara recounted the incident in his book "Wolf" about how his past trauma affected his life, both at work and personally.

McNamara's trauma came from his family history, but many can incur trauma on the job, too. From military members going to war to an advertising executive experiencing sexual harassment to a warehouse employee suffering an accident. All can negatively affect your career and wellbeing.

"I want the book to sensitize people, employees and managers," McNamara said. "I would hope there would be a little more compassion across the company."

McNamara and others shared advice on how to run a trauma-informed workplace and how to keep trauma from affecting your work:

Understanding trauma

PTSD is a mental health problem that can develop after experiencing or seeing a life-threatening event, according to the National Center for PTSD. Most people who go through a traumatic event will not develop PTSD, but about 5% of the population has it in any given year.

Symptoms include reliving the event, avoiding reminders of it, having more negative thoughts and emotions and feeling on edge or always alert. Trauma-focused psychotherapy and medication, which some people combine, are proven treatments.

Despite his PTSD, McNamara earned degrees in social and behavioral sciences and computer science as well as an MBA and a doctorate in organization development. Now retired, McNamara and his wife, Teri, ran a successful consulting firm that worked with large and small companies and organizations across the country.

In his case, some of McNamara's symptoms affected his work performance in ways that appeared positive. His 70-hour work weeks made him look like a hard worker, but managers privately questioned his judgment. His fear of conflict made him seem friendly, but others wondered why he didn't assert his opinions. He was self-reliant but really preferred working alone because he didn't trust others.

"It's a bomb going off in your psyche," McNamara said. "You make terrible impulsive decisions because you're always in fight-or-flight mode."

Decreased productivity, a drop in performance and/or more frequent absences might be signs of PTSD that employers notice, according to the American Psychiatric Association Foundation's Center for Workplace Mental Health. People experiencing PTSD might have negative feelings about themselves and the world, experience decreased interest in activities, withdraw socially, feel detached and have difficulty feeling positive emotions. They can be irritable, excessively vigilant and have an exaggerated response to surprises. They can also have trouble concentrating and sleeping.

Seek help, offer support

Stress is a common reaction after trauma, and taking action to cope with that stress can put you in a position of power, according to the National Center for PTSD. Mindfulness practices such as meditation, deep breathing, massage or yoga might help.

McNamara said you should accept that you deserve help, and the trauma or abuse you experienced is not your fault. Performance problems at work are likely just symptoms of that trauma.

If co-workers speak with you about their trauma history or PTSD, McNamara said, based on his experience and research, to stay calm, listen more than you talk, encourage them to seek help and thank them for sharing. Don't stop them from talking about their trauma, minimize their symptoms or tell them how they should feel. Don't ask for details, share your own history or try to serve as a therapist.

Managers and co-workers can support employees with PTSD through patience and understanding, according to the Center for Workplace Mental Health. A work climate and culture that encourages people to find treatment for mental health conditions is essential. PTSD is difficult to live with, and resulting performance issues and negative behaviors are not entirely in the person's control.

To support an employee who is experiencing PTSD, Champion Health, a London-based digital workplace health platform, recommends educating yourself and your team to be more responsive to the employee's needs. Build trust with the employee, communicate with empathy and adjust the work environment to increase the employee's sense of security and safety. Adjustments might include allowing the employee to sit where they feel most comfortable, designating a quiet place to work away from office noise and putting measures in place to help the employee manage any panic attacks at work.

Creating a trauma-informed workplace

A new movement of trauma-informed care is growing among health care providers, said Dr. C. Sophia Albott, a psychiatrist and PTSD expert at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

Patients can feel vulnerable when visiting a doctor and discussing health issues, so a trauma-informed care provider, for example, tries to help patients feel safe and tells them what's going to happen during an exam, Albott said.

Employers can adopt some of those principles to create a workplace that is not "super-activating for people who may have histories of trauma," Albott said. Because people have a right to protected health care information, though, a company won't necessarily know which employees might have that history.

But managing instances of poor behavior or poor performance from a trauma-informed perspective, such as understanding that an upset or angry employee might be reacting to emotions stemming from trauma, could help, Albott said.

"If we create workplaces that promote wellness and that are not always high pressure and allow people to have a predictable workflow and where we're trying to be as transparent as possible, hopefully that would create a general situation where people are less triggered," Albott said.

To promote wellness among all employees, Albott emphasized the importance of sufficient sleep and regular exercise, having positive social connections and eating a healthy diet.

A systemic issue

Employers also need to consider employees' lives outside of work, said Viann Nguyen-Feng, a licensed psychologist and assistant professor at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. Systemic-level traumas occurring away from the workplace also can affect employees, including sexism and racism.

"Reminders of that can happen in the workplace and impact performance," Nguyen-Feng said. "Similarly, interpersonal interactions at work also can induce traumatic stress, especially if it's constant race-based traumatic stress or constant daily discrimination."

Nguyen-Feng does trauma-informed organizational assessments, often with social service agencies where secondary traumatic stress, burnout or compassion fatigue can be issues. The assessment takes into account awareness of employee trauma exposure and whether inclusive, culturally responsive care is available to employees and their families.

"Leadership needs to exemplify that and show that they genuinely care about their employees as well as their families and life outside of the workplace," Nguyen-Feng said.

Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Lake Elmo. His e-mail is