We recently posted an article about the impact of emotional labour at work – the cost of keeping your “game face” on when the emotion drain at work may be high:


Soon after, the Law Institute Victoria put out a press release highlighting the need to recognise the impact of vicarious trauma for lawyers, a particularly severe form of workplace emotion labour:


While it is heartening to see some attention on this topic for lawyers, it is important to acknowledge that vicarious trauma impacts many other professional groups also. Nurses, doctors, lawyers, case management workers, call centre staff, and front-line employees in high-stress organisations are all likely to be impacted. Essentially, anyone might be affected who, in the course of their job or role, is managing particularly challenging topic areas such as trauma (injury, accidents, child abuse or family violence), death, grief or crisis situations where emotional distress may be high. Vicarious trauma is defined as the cumulative effect of distress from work in these areas. In general, the symptoms or reactions are likely to show up in these three ways:

  • intrusive reactions such as dreams or nightmares, flashbacks, physiological reactions and other persistent re-experiencing of the particular situation experienced as traumatic or distressing
  • avoidant reactions – a general numbing in responsiveness and avoidance (particularly of things related to the experience)
  • hyper-arousal reactions: hyper-vigilance and difficulty concentrating.

Understandably, these symptoms will interfere with the person’s ability to do their job well, and are also likely to have a negative impact on their wellbeing.

It is therefore important for organisations to be proactive, to have a clear plan and pathway for staff likely to be impacted. A best-practice approach will include:

  • training in how to prevent vicarious trauma, how to spot it and how to access psychological help
  • regular professional supervision to assist staff to process the events and emotions they are experiencing and prioritise recovery and self-care
  • regular workload reviews and professional development.

The team at Umbrella has considerable experience helping organisations set up best-practice protocols to prevent vicarious trauma and to manage it when it does occur. The team is also able to provide training and ongoing professional supervision and support for managers and staff working in these potentially traumatic areas.