In our research into what employees need to thrive in a busy office environment, there’s one group in particular that stands out. Many soldiers re-entering the civilian workforce from active duty struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Even though they have the skills and work ethic to be valuable additions to any company, the modern office environment can pose special challenges for these individuals. Some of the symptoms of PTSD that impact office workers include:
- A heightened startle response – these employees may jump or cry out if someone suddenly pops their head up over a cubicle panel to ask a question or just say hello
- Feeling unsafe – this is a particular problem if desks are facing away from doorways or cubicle openings allowing others to “sneak up” from behind
- Inability to cope with high noise levels – constant audible stimulation breaks concentration and makes focusing on assigned tasks very difficult since individuals with PTSD tend to be hyper-alert
Both coworkers and management may have a hard time understanding these responses at first. But employers have a responsibility (ethically and under the law) to accommodate employees with this disability. Sometimes, this may mean adjusting an employee’s work schedule to less crowded hours or allowing telecommuting. Or, it might mean assigning an employee a private office – or even just an empty conference room to work in. In other situations, simply making changes to existing cubicles might work just as well.
Cubicle Extenders Might Help Workers Cope
One of the most cost-effective ways to lower stress levels for employees with PTSD and increase their sense of personal security is to increase the height of their cubicle walls. There’s a big difference in privacy between a 60” high cubicle panel and one that is 72” high. That extra foot means that no one (except perhaps a pro basketball player) will be able to poke their head over the wall to chat. Cubicle panel extensions have the added benefit of reducing noise and visual distractions that may startle a worker with PTSD.
Do you have additional ideas for how to make the average workplace cubicle safer for returning warriors? Please let us know in the comments.