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Posttraumatic Growth at Work - Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior

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The phenomenon of posttraumatic growth—the transformative positive change that can occur as a result of a struggle with great adversity—has been a focus of interest for psychologists for more than two decades. Research on work-related posttraumatic growth has concentrated primarily on contexts that are inherently traumatic, either through direct exposure to trauma, such as in the military, or through secondary trauma, such as in professions that provide care for traumatized others. There is also an emerging literature on posttraumatic growth in “ordinary” work. Organized into six sections, this review draws on the research on posttraumatic growth in response to both personal and work-based adversity to build a model of work-related posttraumatic growth. Later sections raise challenges in the study of posttraumatic growth at work and identify critical future research directions. Practical implications for organizations and their members are considered throughout the review and are summarized at the end.
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Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and
Organizational Behavior
Posttraumatic Growth at Work
Sally Maitlis
Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 1HP, United Kingdom;
email: sally.maitlis@sbs.ox.ac.uk
Annu. Rev. Organ. Psychol. Organ. Behav. 2020.
7:395–419
First published as a Review in Advance on
October 24, 2019
The Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and
Organizational Behavior is online at
orgpsych.annualreviews.org
https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-orgpsych-012119-
044932
Copyright © 2020 by Annual Reviews.
All rights reserved
Keywords
growth, trauma, sensemaking, emotion, adversity, mental health
Abstract
The phenomenon of posttraumatic growth—the transformative positive
change that can occur as a result of a struggle with great adversity—has been
a focus of interest for psychologists for more than two decades. Research on
work-related posttraumatic growth has concentrated primarily on contexts
that are inherently traumatic, either through direct exposure to trauma, such
as in the military, or through secondary trauma, such as in professions that
provide care for traumatized others. There is also an emerging literature
on posttraumatic growth in “ordinary” work. Organized into seven sections,
this review draws on the research on posttraumatic growth in response to
both personal and work-based adversity to build a model of work-related
posttraumatic growth. Later sections raise challenges in the study of post-
traumatic growth at work and identify critical future research directions.
Practical implications for organizations and their members are considered
throughout the review and are summarized at the end.
395
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INTRODUCTION
Kevin began the trombone at the age of 10 and quickly knew that he wanted to become a profes-
sional musician. Working tirelessly, he won a scholarship to study at a top London conservatoire
and soon after was offered the job as principal in a major British symphony orchestra, a dream
come true. Kevin loved his work, as well as the camaraderie of orchestral life. His ne playing
quickly came to the attention of other orchestras and the career possibilities appeared boundless.
Very busy and looking to the future, Kevin did not pay much attention when his left shoulder
began to hurt. The pain increased over many months, however, increasingly affecting his play-
ing. Eventually, it became impossible for Kevin to ignore. He explained how, after a concert one
evening, “I had this pain going right up my arm, into my shoulder, and right up into my face.
I phoned [my wife] and I was in tears and said, ‘I think I’ve screwed myself up; I’ve really hurt
myself.’”
Over the next two years, and with growing desperation, Kevin saw 30 different specialists, from
physiotherapists to psychologists. But any improvements were short-lived and, despite working to
completely relearn his technique, Kevin eventually had to accept that he could no longer continue
as an orchestral musician. “I felt like I’d lost everything,” he shared. As he worked to come to terms
with his situation, he tentatively applied for and was appointed to a senior management position at
a well-regarded British conservatoire. Much to his surprise, Kevin soon found himself completely
at home, and passionate about work in a whole new way. He described his work as:
…an amazing opportunity to turn all the bad things that had happened to me into good ones…. I gen-
uinely feel that those experiences have given me some irreplaceable tools for this job…. It’s a physical
job in that I have to perform still—make music with the students. Also, there’s an incredible mental
challenge every single day. There’s a need for real emotional empathy and understanding in my job as
well…. At the moment, I’m using every single aspect of me,rather than just one very specialized aspect
that actually needed quite a lot of maintenance to keep going…. I was a really good trombone player
in a good orchestra, but I don’t think I was that much of a useful person. I was useful to myself but, yes,
I feel much happier about me as a person now.
Kevin’s story, taken from my ongoing research on musicians and dancers who have faced a
major disruption to their careers, is one of work-related posttraumatic growth (Maitlis 2009;
S. Maitlis, manuscript in preparation). Although devastated by the injury that ended the career
for which he had single-mindedly strived since childhood, he subsequently experienced himself
as doing work that was an “amazing opportunity” that allowed him to use many more parts of
himself, and to turn his painful experiences into good ones. Taking pleasure in being of service to
others, Kevin also found his priorities had also shifted, a common facet of posttraumatic growth.
This review explores the phenomenon of posttraumatic growth at work. By examining stud-
ies of individuals like Kevin and the countless others who have encountered extremely difcult
situations that signicantly affect their work lives, we see a great many people emerge from work-
related trauma stronger, with deeper connections to others, and with a clearer sense of what mat-
ters. This review explains when and how work-related posttraumatic growth occurs, building a
model of the process through which it develops.
DEFINING AND CONCEPTUALIZING POSTTRAUMATIC GROWTH
Posttraumatic growth is the transformative positive change that can come about as a result of
the struggle with highly challenging life crises (Tedeschi & Calhoun 2004). This positive change
can take different forms. Tedeschi & Calhoun (1995) originally identied three, which have re-
mained core in later work (e.g., Joseph et al. 2012, Joseph & Hefferon 2013): perceptions of self,
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relationships with others, and philosophy of life. Thus, those who have survived a trauma may
begin to see themselves as stronger and better able to deal with difcult events in the future (self-
perception). They may also change how they see and feel around others, experiencing a greater
sense of intimacy and belonging (relationships with others). Additionally, they may gain a greater
sense of purpose and appreciation for life, and new priorities about what is most important (life
philosophy). Subsequently, and with the development and widespread use of a self-report instru-
ment, the Posttraumatic Growth Inventory (PGTI) (Tedeschi & Calhoun 1996), many scholars
have conceptualized growth in ve domains: personal strength, relating to others, appreciation
of life, openness to new possibilities, and spiritual change. The rst three of these align with the
original domains; new possibilities captures the new interests, activities, or paths that can open
up for individuals following a trauma; and spiritual change reects an engagement with spiritual,
religious, or existential matters.
Various terms have been used to describe the experience of positive change after adversity,
including stress-related growth, perceived benets, positive adaptation, and adversarial growth
(Linley & Joseph 2004). All are used to capture broadly similar kinds of changes, although different
studies and measures emphasize slightly different facets of growth.
Origins of Posttraumatic Growth
The term posttraumatic growth appeared in the literature approximately 25 years ago, but the
idea that positive change can emerge from pain and suffering is much older. This theme runs
through the writings of the major world religions, in which the power of very difcult experiences
to transform can be found in the writings of Buddhism, Christianity,Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism
(Tedeschi & Calhoun 1995). It is a central motif within literature, music, and other cultural forms,
and it underpins existential and other psychological perspectives on human suffering (e.g., Frankl
1963). In the scholarly psychology literature, an interest in the nature of posttraumatic growth,
the kinds of catalytic events that prompt it, and the factors that enable it has grown rapidly in the
past two decades ( Jayawickreme & Blackie 2016, Mangelsdorf et al. 2019, Tedeschi et al. 2018). It
has received much less attention in management writings, and only a relatively small number of
studies have considered posttraumatic growth in the context of work and organizations.
Posttraumatic Growth as Outcome and Process
Posttraumatic growth can be understood as both a process and an outcome. As an outcome, it is
seen as a state achieved as the result of a set of psychological and behavioral change processes.
Posttraumatic growth is also regarded, especially in narrative and other processual ontologies, as
a process of change. Each perspective is discussed below.
Posttraumatic growth as outcome. Most empirical research has treated posttraumatic growth
as an outcome, an experience of positive change occurring through the struggle with signicant
adversity (Tedeschi & Calhoun 2004). Many early studies revealed the presence of posttraumatic
growth in the aftermath of a wide range of largely personal traumatic events, such as the death of a
child or a cancer diagnosis. In this and subsequent work, posttraumatic growth has typically been
measured by benets found (e.g., Helgeson et al. 2006), meaning made (Park 2010), or perceived
growth on the PGTI or other self-report instruments.
In parallel with this research, inductive, qualitative studies of posttraumatic growth have al-
lowed the identication of some growth experiences following adversity not fully captured by
current scales, such as a new awareness of the body, in the case of illness-related posttraumatic
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growth (Hefferon et al. 2009, Joseph & Hefferon 2013). Furthermore, amid questions about the
conceptualization and operationalization of posttraumatic growth, some studies have examined
the construct of growth together with that of psychological well-being, seeking convergence across
these constructs (Mangelsdorf et al. 2019).
Because growth is almost always self-reported, one could argue that the literature explores
individuals’ perceptions of having grown, rather than growth itself. Like psychological well-being,
however, posttraumatic growth is an inherently subjective experience, and attempting to assess it
in some objective sense is therefore problematic. We return to these issues in the nal two sections
of this review, Challenging Issues in the Study of Posttraumatic Growth, and Future Directions
for Research.
Posttraumatic growth as an outcome is theorized to be the result of a process that involves
making meaning of what has happened, coping with distress, and other related activities such
as self-disclosure and acceptance (Linley & Joseph 2004, Neimeyer 2006, Tedeschi et al. 2018).
Although research has found relationships between individuals’ reports of such endeavors (e.g.,
that they have come to terms with the event) and their reports of growth, less work has directly
investigated the process through which posttraumatic growth develops, which may be seen as the
process of posttraumatic growth.
Posttraumatic growth as process. Narrative scholars are among those who regard posttraumatic
growth as a process, one through which new, growthful narratives are developed. For example,
posttraumatic growth has been described as “a form of meaning reconstruction in the wake of
crisis and loss” (Neimeyer 2006, p. 69) or the “process of constructing a narrative understanding
of how the self has been positively transformed by the traumatic event” (Pals & McAdams 2004,
p. 65). Such research highlights the process through which individuals story themselves in new
ways, including acknowledging the trauma’s emotional impact, analyzing its effect on and meaning
for the self, and constructing a positive ending that explains the self-transformation (Pals 2006,
Pals & McAdams 2004).
Other studies explore the identity work in which people engage as they shift their focus away
from threatened or diminished understandings of themselves and begin to develop new, growth-
ful identities (Maitlis 2009, Wehrle et al. 2018). This process involves activities such as reducing
the importance accorded to a previous identity while strengthening a new one, and creating a
transitional identity that enables individuals to move gradually from who they were pre-trauma
to a positive construction of who they might become post-trauma. We return to the process of
posttraumatic growth and explore it more fully in the section Theorizing the Process: A Model
of Posttraumatic Growth at Work.
The Relationship Between Posttraumatic Growth and Posttraumatic Stress
The relationship between posttraumatic growth and posttraumatic stress is complex and still un-
clear.Although we might imagine that posttraumatic growth and posttraumatic stress are opposite
ends of a spectrum, this is not the case (Tedeschi et al. 2018). They are orthogonal constructs, and
posttraumatic stress, or at least some considerable degree of distress and psychological disruption,
is a prerequisite for posttraumatic growth, given that experiencing trauma is highly distressing
and growth comes through struggle. Thus, posttraumatic growth cannot occur instead of post-
traumatic stress after a traumatic event, but only in addition to it, driven by a distressing challenge
to individuals’ assumptions and core beliefs (Tedeschi & Calhoun 1995, Tedeschi et al. 2018).
Research on the relationship between posttraumatic stress and posttraumatic growth has pro-
duced mixed ndings, with some studies showing greater posttraumatic stress is associated with
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greater posttraumatic growth, and others either a negative or an inverted U-shaped relationship,
with the highest levels of growth occurring at moderate levels of stress (discussed in Lowe et al.
2013). Some recent longitudinal studies have found a positive relationship between posttraumatic
stress and posttraumatic growth over time, such that initial levels and increases in posttraumatic
stress predicted increases in posttraumatic growth (Dekel et al. 2012, Lowe et al. 2013). This work
suggests that growth may not only be facilitated but may also be maintained by the presence of
posttraumatic distress, perhaps because feeling distress prompts continued efforts to make new
meanings and to move forward, which in turn are associated with growth experiences.
Distinguishing Posttraumatic Growth from Related Concepts
In addition to terms such as adversarial or stress-related growth, often used interchangeably with
posttraumatic growth, there are several different concepts that are sometimes confused with post-
traumatic growth, including resilience, recovery, thriving, and ourishing. Resilience is commonly
understood as the ability to maintain relatively stable, healthy levels of functioning after a highly
disruptive event (Bonanno 2004) or the maintenance of positive adjustment under challenging
conditions (Sutcliffe & Vogus 2003). Thus, resilience can be seen to differ from posttraumatic
growth in that it emphasizes stability in the context of trauma, rather than a trajectory of in-
creased positive functioning. Recovery is also different in that it involves a return to prior levels of
functioning after a crisis, rather than a trajectory of increased functioning (Bonanno et al. 2011).
Thriving has been dened as “the psychological state in which individuals experience both a
sense of vitality and a sense of learning” (Spreitzer et al. 2005, p. 538). Although thriving is associ-
ated with growth, it is more often understood as an everyday occurrence and is not normally linked
to traumatic or signicantly adverse experiences. As with thriving, ourishing is a broader term
associated with well-being. Flourishing individuals are “lled with emotional vitality…function-
ing positively in the private and social realms of their lives” (Keyes & Haidt 2003, p. 6). Thriving,
ourishing, and posttraumatic growth all involve individuals’ positive functioning at a level be-
yond normal expectations. In posttraumatic growth, however, this occurs only in the aftermath of
signicant adversity, whereas in thriving and ourishing it may or may not occur after a negative
event. Furthermore, posttraumatic growth entails transformation, in a way that is less prominent
in thriving or ourishing, and this transformation comes through the struggle with signicant
adversity.
TRAUMATIC EXPERIENCES PROMPTING POSTTRAUMATIC
GROWTH
Research suggests that growth is a common experience for individuals after a deeply distressing
incident. In general, prevalence has been found to lie between 30% and 70% ( Joseph et al. 2012),
depending on the trauma, sample, and way that posttraumatic growth is assessed. In the workplace,
studies of inherently traumatizing occupations such as the military and emergency services report
prevalence rates of 40–75% (e.g., Shakespeare-Finch et al. 2003, Tsai et al. 2015). No data are
available for posttraumatic growth in “ordinary” work.
Personal Experiences
Posttraumatic growth has been found in the aftermath of a myriad of different kinds of traumatic
events. Although a few studies have examined differences across types of trauma (e.g., Shakespeare-
Finch & Armstrong 2010), in general, it has been argued that the nature of the event itself is less
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important for posttraumatic growth than the way that an individual experiences it. Research to
date has explored posttraumatic growth after personal losses such as bereavement (e.g., Davis
et al. 1998); medical problems (e.g., Helgeson et al. 2006); and interpersonal violations, such as
rape and other forms of sexual assault (e.g., Frazier et al. 2001). Posttraumatic growth has also
been studied following various community traumas, such as natural disasters (e.g., McMillen et al.
1997) and terrorism (e.g., Updegraff et al. 2008). In each case, individuals were found to have
experienced growth following intensely painful trauma, irrespective of the kind of trauma they
had encountered, or whether it was a one-off event or an ongoing problem.
Experiences in Work and Affecting Work
Despite the expansion of research on posttraumatic growth over the past two decades, the liter-
ature on posttraumatic growth at work and organizational life remains surprisingly small—a gap
that is problematic for at least three important reasons. First, many personally traumatic events can
have a signicant impact on people’s ability to do their work and on their feelings about that work
(Meyerson & Zuckerman 2019, Sandberg & Grant 2017). Second, trauma is often present in or-
ganizational life; experiences including redundancy,restructuring, bullying, and ethical violations
can be deeply distressing. Furthermore, jobs may demand “necessary evils” that involve causing
emotional or physical harm (Margolis & Molinsky 2008), and that can be traumatic for both the
deliverer and the recipient. Third, the increasing precarity of work carries with it a greater poten-
tial for affected individuals to experience work-related events as traumatic (Ashford et al. 2018,
Petriglieri et al. 2019). The relatively small body of research that explores posttraumatic growth
at work has emerged out of a larger literature on traumatic stress and posttraumatic stress disor-
der (PTSD) in certain job contexts vulnerable to trauma and now forms three distinct streams of
research.
Inherently traumatic work. The largest of these examines posttraumatic growth in settings
where jobholders encounter trauma as a matter of course, including the military (e.g., Mark et al.
2018, Tsai et al. 2015), police (e.g., Chopko et al. 2018, 2019), emergency services (e.g., Sattler
et al. 2014, Shakespeare-Finch et al. 2003), and disaster/rescue work (e.g., Paton 2006, Shamia
et al. 2015). Together, this research shows that although doing such work often leads to posttrau-
matic stress and PTSD, it can also prompt posttraumatic growth.These studies nd that job hold-
ers are more likely to experience posttraumatic growth if they encounter a severe threat (Chopko
et al. 2019), and one directed at them, rather than witnessing threat or harm to others (Chopko
et al. 2018). Posttraumatic growth is also more common if someone working in an inherently trau-
matic profession experiences a threat from multiple sources (Armstrong et al. 2014), or witnesses
a death (Kehl et al. 2015), especially that of a friend (Shamia et al. 2015). One study of emergency
ambulance ofcers nds that posttraumatic growth may also be greater for workers who have ex-
perienced a personal trauma in addition to a work-related trauma (Shakespeare-Finch et al. 2003).
This literature indicates that work-related posttraumatic growth is most likely following the most
devastating and personally distressing workplace experiences, and especially if these occur along-
side adversity in individuals’ personal lives. The research on inherently traumatic work thus seems
to support research discussed earlier in this review,showing posttraumatic growth is greater when
posttraumatic stress is more severe (Dekel et al. 2012).
Secondary trauma at work. The largest body of work-related posttraumatic growth research is
that on secondary or vicarious trauma and growth in professionals whose work can be traumatizing
because it involves supporting others who have been traumatized. This research includes studies
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of health professionals such as labor and delivery nurses and psychotherapists, social workers, in-
terpreters, clergy, and funeral directors (see reviews by Cohen & Collens 2013 and Manning-Jones
et al. 2015). It shows how individuals working with the trauma of their clients can incur secondary
traumatic stress but also often experience secondary posttraumatic growth. In many of these cases,
posttraumatic growth is linked to the change and growth that workers witness in their clients,
which prompts in those workers a new appreciation of what is possible, in terms of the difference
they can facilitate, and in some cases it may prompt a spiritual broadening (Manning-Jones et al.
2015). Empathy is important here because workers are more likely to experience secondary post-
traumatic growth if they feel empathically engaged with their clients (e.g., Splevins et al. 2010).
Thus, witnessing posttraumatic growth in others can itself be positively transformative.
Trauma in “ordinary” work. Finally,a few studies explore the possibility of posttraumatic growth
in the context of “ordinary” work. Most of these investigate disruptions to work, such as losing
a job (e.g., Kira & Klehe 2016, Oakland et al. 2012, Zikic & Richardson 2007) or being unable
to continue in work because of injury (e.g., Maitlis 2009). In contrast, only a few studies have
examined growth that followed from adversities that require coping while doing one’s job (e.g.,
Richmond 2018, Stafford 2016). This research has highlighted a range of experiences, including a
denied promotion (Vough & Caza 2017), abusive supervision (Vogel & Bolino 2019), and whistle-
blowing retaliation (Stafford 2016). Posttraumatic growth following these experiences can take
different forms, often behavioral, such as feeling inspired and empowered to establish conditions
for employee voice and greater compassion for patients (Richmond 2018).
Despite the small number of studies, the qualitative methods often employed have led to rich
insights into the impacts of adversity, as well as identifying novel forms of posttraumatic growth.
We thus learn that losing a job or being unable to continue in a career can challenge core beliefs
about identity, causing distress and confusion, but also creating opportunities for posttraumatic
growth in the form of broadened or new identities (Maitlis 2009), deeper self-understanding (Zikic
& Richardson 2007), and a greater personal strength and independence (Kira & Klehe 2016). In
their study of refugees, Wehrle et al. (2018) found that the difcult, undermining, and lonely
experiences of job-seeking enabled learning, through which refugees came to see themselves as
stronger and more condent and underwent shifts in their sense of what was important.
Research on growth resulting from a combination of personal and work-related adversity
shows, for example, how athletes can be mobilized by signicant setbacks (Sarkar et al. 2015)
and make growthful meanings of their experiences (e.g., nding joy in helping others) that allow
them to take pleasure in new identities, activities, and relationships (Howells & Fletcher 2015).
Other research has shown how traumatic experiences can enable growth in individuals’ leadership
capacity, in many cases for a cause connected to their own trauma (Williams & Allen 2015). For
example, Kevin, whose story begins this article, now talks passionately to young musicians about
looking after their physical and mental health, and recognizing when they need help—something
he himself was slow to do.
Summary. Research shows that growth can occur in people doing jobs that are inherently trau-
matic (directly or vicariously), but we have limited understanding of when such work-related post-
traumatic growth is more likely or the processes through which it occurs. Additionally, relatively
little is known about posttraumatic growth in “ordinary” work. Research on growth following
work-related adversity has tended to examine it in individuals outside of an organizational setting,
either because they have lost jobs, are attempting to get a job, or do work independently of an or-
ganizational role. Thus, although we know that organizational practices and relationships contain
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Traumatic event
aecting work
A
s
s
u
m
p
t
i
v
e
w
o
r
l
d
Emotion
regulation
Posttraumatic
growth
Well-being
Positive
physiological
changes
Social support Attentive
companionship
Sensemaking
Work relationships
Personal relationships
Occupational
support
Positive
work
identity
Career
proactivity
Prosocial
leadership
Supportive organizational culture
Work-related
outcomes, e.g.:
Dysregulation Growth cycle
Enablers
OutcomesDisruption
Core beliefs
Emotional
security
Intrusive
memories and
images
Dysregulated
emotions
Figure 1
A model of posttraumatic growth at work. Posttraumatic growth at work is sparked by a traumatic work-related event that disrupts
individuals’ assumptive worlds and leads to dysregulated cognitions and emotions. Growth occurs through a recursive cycle of emotion
regulation and sensemaking that is enabled by social support, occupational support, and attentive companionship. Posttraumatic growth
can then lead to enhanced well-being, positive physiological changes, and a variety of work-related outcomes such as a positive work
identity, career proactivity, and prosocial leadership.
many potential resources for growth (Powley 2009, Sonenshein et al. 2013), these have received
little attention in work-related posttraumatic growth research.
THEORIZING THE PROCESS: A MODEL OF POSTTRAUMATIC
GROWTH AT WORK
This section elaborates on the process through which posttraumatic growth at work develops, as
Figure 1 illustrates. Table 1 provides a summary of the practical implications of this model, which
are raised throughout the section.
Triggering Event Disrupts Existing Understandings and Prompts
Emotional Response
Underpinning writing on posttraumatic growth is the notion that such growth is prompted by a
negative event that signicantly disrupts important understandings a person has about the world
and themselves in the world ( Janoff-Bulman 2006, Joseph & Hefferon 2013, Tedeschi & Calhoun
1995, Tedeschi et al. 2018). These understandings, known in the posttraumatic growth literature
as the assumptive world ( Janoff-Bulman 2004) or core beliefs (Lindstrom et al. 2013), are central
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Table 1 Practical implications
Processes toward
growth
Enabling
practices Practical implications
Managing distress
and regulating
emotions
Occupational
support
For individuals:
Be open to the support that may be offered from those at work.
Seek help through formal and informal channels in the organization.
For organizations:
Pay attention to and make time for colleagues who are suffering.
Build organizational cultures that support employees who are suffering
post-trauma.
Establish processes through which suffering employees can access professional
support as required.
Acknowledge and endorse colleagues and managers who make time to listen to
distressed employees.
Making sense of the
experience, self,
and the future
Attentive
companionship
For individuals:
Share your story with trusted others at work; listen to how you tell it and
notice how it changes over time.
For organizations:
Listen with patience and empathy when an employee shares his or her
emerging sensemaking.
Over time, identify an employee’s new understandings as positive changes.
Design formal roles that include attentive companionship.
Create organizational conditions that foster trust and psychological safety.
to our feelings of security. An experience that challenges them is frightening and confusing,
shattering the sense that the world is predictable, knowable, and largely controllable. The clinical
literature explains that what makes a traumatic event so devastating is its impact on individuals’
deep assumptions and feelings of safety in the world (Herman 2015, Van der Kolk 2014). Because
of this emotional impact on a fundamental sense of safety and security, Figure 1 includes within
assumptive world both core beliefs (our cognitive understandings about the world) and emotional
security (our feeling of ease and safety in the world).
In the period immediately following a trauma, individuals experience repeated invasive memo-
ries, images, and unwanted thoughts that are very difcult to manage or stop. This pattern reects
the brain’s efforts to integrate the traumatic event into existing schema, but it is involuntary and
usually very distressing, exacerbating the painful emotions of the event itself (McFarlane & Yehuda
2007). In the case of normal adaptation (rather than progression to PTSD), the frequency and in-
tensity of traumatic memories diminish and the individual becomes more emotionally regulated
over a period of several weeks.
Disrupting assumptive worlds at work. Studies of trauma in the workplace highlight how jobs
involving combat, disaster work, and trauma work often challenge workers’ assumptions about
humanity (e.g., De Rond & Lok 2016). For example, when soldiers go to war or counsellors hear
the stories of those who have been traumatized, this can signicantly undermine their beliefs about
benevolence and justice, causing feelings of distress and hopelessness (Cohen & Collens 2013). But
even in organizations not directly engaged in traumatizing work, employees may encounter many
experiences that shatter their assumptions and emotional security. For example, experiences of
major organizational change, redundancy, sexual harassment, or abusive supervision can subvert
employees’ beliefs about themselves, their organization, and their place in it. At a collective level,
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employees may be thrown into shock and distress by an event that affects the organization as
a whole, as was the case in BP with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and the many institutions
affected by the terrorist attacks of 9/11—“strong events” in event system theory (Morgeson et al.
2015). Such potentially traumatic incidents can create deep distrust; raise doubts about others’
intentions and one’s own capabilities; and prompt feelings of fear, anger, anxiety, and even guilt
and shame.
Organizational conditions inuencing disruption. Certain organizational characteristics in-
crease or decrease the likelihood that an adverse event will disrupt the assumptive world of one or
more employees. For example, high reliability organizations strive to ensure a resilient response
in the face of adversity by creating a mindful infrastructure that enables employees to anticipate
and manage the unexpected through their everyday operations (Weick & Sutcliffe 2007). Those
working in such organizations are less likely to be surprised by something untoward, because they
will already anticipate that possibility. Other organizations are underpinned by sets of values and
cultural assumptions that make their employees more vulnerable to adversity. For instance, in a
social enterprise with a core value of social good, employees will be shocked, confused, and per-
haps angry if an action is taken that violates these ideals, and their own assumptive worlds, as seen
in the Oxfam Haiti sex scandal. This can also happen in a corporation experiencing an ethical
breach, as in the Volkswagen emissions exposé, or in an occupation such as law or medicine when
clear professional norms are violated. But the extent to which individuals’ world views are chal-
lenged depends on a disparity between the incident and the values and assumptions that underpin
the organizational or professional culture, as well as the strength of that culture. And, as with any
potentially adverse event, people will be differentially affected: Those who identify strongly with
their organization or profession are more likely to experience such incidents as traumatic (De
Rond & Lok 2016).
Managing Distress and Regulating Emotions
Following a trauma, emotions such as anxiety, sadness, anger, and guilt can be overwhelming and
hard to control, making it difcult to function in the world. Survivors are also hypersensitive to
reminders of the traumatic event, which can prompt strong emotional reactions that may seem
to come out of nowhere. Emotion regulation, or the ability to modulate and manage emotional
experiences (Gross 1998), is greatly compromised by trauma, signicantly due to the increased
levels of cortisol and adrenaline that come as a result of the body functioning in “threat” mode
even after a traumatic event is over. This inability to self-regulate is one of the most far-reaching
effects of trauma (Van der Kolk 2014), also affecting individuals’ cognitive capacity to focus and
concentrate on other things.
However, in order to process their experience and move on, individuals need to be able to man-
age their distress and regulate their emotions, so that they can function without ongoing disruption
from pervasive negative feelings and their debilitating effects. Doing so also makes possible a shift
away from the intrusive thoughts, memories, and images that dominate the early period after a
traumatic experience toward a more generative sensemaking process in which survivors can start
to make meaning of what has happened. Social support is a key enabler in this process.
Social support as an enabling mechanism. Research consistently shows the value of social
support in helping people regulate their emotions. Such support can come from family, friends,
colleagues, or formal support groups, and covers a range of possibilities, including having
someone with whom to discuss problems, share joy and sorrow, count on when things go wrong,
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and get practical help. Social support has repeatedly been found to be important in the devel-
opment of posttraumatic growth, for example, in cancer survivors who can talk with supportive
others about their diagnosis, or in survivors of interpersonal violence who receive a nonblaming
response from those to whom they disclose their experience (Kolokotroni et al. 2014, Prati &
Pietrantoni 2009). The timing of the support seems to matter: Some studies suggest that support,
especially emotional, is more valuable in the earliest period after a trauma than in later stages
(e.g., Schroevers et al. 2010).
Occupational support. When people experience a trauma that affects their work, they may get
support from various relationships. Social support often comes from employees’ families and
friends, but the work environment has the potential to provide other valuable sources. This is
known as occupational support and can play a critical, and particularly pertinent, role in helping
workers cope with work-related crises (e.g., Brooks et al. 2018). Some studies of posttraumatic
growth in the workplace distinguish between social support from friends and family and occupa-
tional support (e.g., Paton 2006, Sattler et al. 2014), whereas others ask more generally about social
support without specifying the source. Such research has found a relationship between support
and posttraumatic growth in a range of work contexts, including emergency medical dispatchers
(e.g., Shakespeare-Finch et al. 2015), reghters (e.g., Sattler et al. 2014), the military (e.g., Mark
et al. 2018), trauma workers (e.g., Cohen & Collens 2013), and athletes (e.g., Howells & Fletcher
2015).
Recent research on compassionate organizations and companionate organizational cultures
further corroborates the benets of work environments in which people feel supported and cared
for (Barsade & O’Neill 2014, O’Neill & Rothbard 2015, Worline & Dutton 2017). Such studies
show that in organizations where employees are treated with care and compassion as they face sig-
nicant challenges, they feel more job satisfaction and commitment, and experience less burnout
and absenteeism. In organizations where such values are not built into the culture, social sup-
port may be provided by so-called toxin handlers (Frost 2003). This is not without cost, however:
These empathic managers, who try to alleviate suffering in their workplaces, can end up absorb-
ing the toxicity and falling prey to compassion fatigue and burnout. In sum, occupational support,
deriving from supportive work relationships and enabled by supportive organizational cultures,
plays a powerful role in helping trauma survivors manage their distress and regulate the difcult
emotions that follow a traumatic experience.
Sensemaking About the Traumatic Event, Oneself, and the Future
Sensemaking is a meaning-making process through which people work to understand unexpected
or confusing events. It is prompted by some kind of interruption to the ongoing ow, such as
an event or incident that contravenes people’s expectations and leaves them uncertain as to how
to behave (Maitlis & Christianson 2014). Experiencing a trauma that disrupts one’s assumptive
world is such an event ( Janoff-Bulman 2006, Maitlis 2009). Yet it is hard to make sense of things
when ooded with emotion, which is why the sensemaking process can only begin once people
are functioning at a lower level of emotional arousal (Maitlis et al. 2013). As a more deliberate
and generative process, sensemaking contrasts with the uncontrollable and intrusive thoughts and
memories that immediately follow a trauma, although the two may also co-occur for a period.
A large body of research on posttraumatic growth and related literatures has identied sense-
making as central to the development of posttraumatic growth. Sometimes referred to as “deliber-
ative rumination” (Tedeschi et al. 2018), this process involves searching for and creating meaning
in the aftermath of a traumatic event. Finding ways to make sense of something difcult and
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unexpected can make it feel more predictable and controllable, and can allow people to regain a
feeling of security (Roese & Olson 1996, Wilson et al. 2003). Moreover, when the meaning made
involves elements such as growth in personal strength, a sense of greater belonging, or an increased
appreciation for life, this can be understood as posttraumatic growth.
Sensemaking as cognition. Sensemaking after a trauma has an important cognitive dimension,
including strategies such as positive cognitive restructuring (e.g., “There is ultimately more good
than bad in this situation”), downward comparison (“Other people have had worse experiences
than mine”), and acceptance (“I have come to terms with this experience”) (Park 2010). Other
cognitive ways of making meaning include assigning responsibility for the event, interpreting the
experience through spiritual beliefs, or identifying positive consequences of the event (Updegraff
et al. 2008).
Sensemaking as action. Sensemaking is also action-oriented, as individuals often understand the
world through insights gained as a result of actions taken (Maitlis & Christianson 2014). Thus a
person may come to understand her personal strength after adversity by noticing she is coping
better than expected. This is consistent with Hobfoll’s interest in action-focused growth, empha-
sizing how meaning is found in action. In their work on posttraumatic growth in the context
of terrorism, Hobfoll et al. (2007) argue that “real” posttraumatic growth comes not merely by
thinking differently but by actualizing these cognitions through action. This, they believe, re-
stores people’s sense of competence, autonomy, and attachment as well as embeds posttraumatic
growth-enhancing practices in everyday living.
A body of research that has found prosocial behavior often follows trauma exposure (e.g.,
Frazier et al. 2013) can also be understood in this light. Here, traumatized individuals adopt an
active stance in response to what they have been through, behaving in prosocial ways that make
things better for others. It is thought that such responses may be motivated by a need to create
meaning in a world that no longer makes sense, as, for example, after the terrorist attacks of 9/11
(Wrzesniewski 2002). Several of these studies involve disaster response workers and police of-
cers who report feeling they have grown in various ways as a result of their active involvement in
recovery and relief efforts after a crisis (see Brooks et al. 2018 for a review). In another example of
how action enables the making of new sense, an interesting stream of research shows how physical
exercise can lead to posttraumatic growth by bringing a sense of mastery for those whose trauma
involved injury or illness (e.g., Hefferon et al. 2009).
Sensemaking as narrative. Sensemaking following a trauma can occur through the construction
of narratives of positive transformation (Neimeyer 2006, Pals & McAdams 2004). Research in
this tradition shows how growth can emerge in survivors’ stories of trauma, and themselves after a
trauma (Pals 2006, Pals & McAdams 2004). Such growth-oriented narratives are often developed
and enriched in conversation with others, highlighting another way in which supportive others
enable posttraumatic growth. But writing narratives about one’s thoughts and feelings following
an adverse event has also been shown to be a powerful means of sensemaking, especially when
produced over multiple occasions (Pennebaker & Chung 2011).
Sensemaking after a work-related trauma. There is considerable research showing the im-
portance of sensemaking following a traumatic event in the context of work. For example, in a
systematic literature review of posttraumatic growth in the military, Mark et al. (2018) found
posttraumatic growth in veterans was predicted by sensemaking. A study of US reghters found
that sensemaking in the form of problem-solving and emotion-focused coping was positively
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related to posttraumatic growth, whereas disengagement coping (the very opposite of working
to make sense of what has happened) was positively related to posttraumatic stress symptoms
(Sattler et al. 2014). There is also evidence for the role of sensemaking in facilitating secondary
posttraumatic growth in those who work with traumatized individuals. A systematic literature
review of secondary posttraumatic growth found workers who were supported by psychotherapy
were more likely to report growth, likely because of the opportunity that therapy provides to
make meaning (Manning-Jones et al. 2015).
Sensemaking is also important in facilitating growth in work environments where one would
not normally expect to encounter trauma. In their narrative study of job loss, for example,Gabriel
et al. (2010) depict the sensemaking process as “narrative coping,” reecting the struggle to con-
struct a story of what has happened that offers both meaning and consolation. This involves cre-
ating a narrative in which unemployed professionals give voice to their difcult experiences and
emotions, turning the trauma of redundancy into a prompt for refashioning identity. In a simi-
lar vein, Vough et al. (2015) explored narratives of retirement, identifying the sensemaking that
produced more and less growthful narratives of the ends of individuals’ working lives. A narra-
tive analysis of the biographies of leaders of prosocial change found that individuals made sense
of earlier traumas by engaging in trauma-inspired prosocial leadership that reected a growth in
their perspective and capacity to understand problems, as well as the development of more com-
passionate connections with others (Williams & Allen 2015).
Attentive companionship as an organizational enabler of growth-oriented sensemaking. Al-
though social and occupational support are helpful in managing distress and regulating emotions
after a traumatic event, a different kind of support—attentive companionship—enables sensemak-
ing for work-related posttraumatic growth. Attentive companionship derives from the concept of
expert companionship (Calhoun & Tedeschi 2013, Tedeschi & Calhoun 2009), which developed
out of writing for clinicians and combines clinical expertise with the human companionship that
is so important for those who are suffering. Such a role can also be taken by nonclinicians, indi-
viduals who are not expert therapists but who bring patience, empathy, and the capacity to listen
well. In this sense, they are attentive, rather than expert, companions.
Key to this role is that the companion supports and may facilitate growth-oriented sensemak-
ing in an individual after a trauma, but does not try to create or induce it. Posttraumatic growth
comes about through the struggle to make sense of a deeply testing experience; it cannot there-
fore be done to or given to another. Supporting this process means following the lead of those
suffering, entering into the way they think and talk, and listening to their sensemaking without
trying to produce answers. This may involve listening to multiple tellings of the trauma story and
responding appropriately to the accompanying emotions (Tedeschi et al. 2018).
The attentive companion’s role is to listen out for times when the survivor mentions new un-
derstandings or possibilities, and, as appropriate,and usually not early in the post-trauma process,
label these as positive changes. Of course, this is a highly sensitive matter, for it can be shocking,
disturbing, and guilt-inducing to discover that one can have positive thoughts and feelings in the
aftermath of terrible adversity.But, done with care and caution, this is a facilitative part of the pro-
cess and can allow an individual to start building a new narrative of the event and its place in his
or her life. In the context of work, an interpersonally sensitive manager, peer, or other coworker
can be an attentive companion. In some organizations, certain formal organizational roles may
include this type of support, for example, patient advocates in healthcare (Heaphy 2017).It is cru-
cial, however, that meanings labeled as positive changes are linked not to the trauma itself, but to
the individual’s struggle and personal shifts in its aftermath (Calhoun & Tedeschi 2013). Making
light of a traumatic event and its impact is not a path to posttraumatic growth.
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Certain organizational conditions will support the presence and actions of attentive compan-
ions at work. For example, these relationships are rooted in a base level of trust and are more
likely to exist and ourish in conditions of psychological safety (Edmondson 1999). If employees
fear the consequences of sharing what they are going through after a trauma, it will be harder
for a caring colleague to facilitate their sensemaking. Trust and psychological safety, in turn, are
more likely in organizations where there is a reasonable level of stability in the workforce, and in
individuals’ roles. If turnover is high, or people are constantly changing roles and areas, they are
likely to know less about each other, including the personal difculties that someone is working
through. Several practical implications follow, as Table 1 summarizes.
Outcomes Associated with Posttraumatic Growth
Several psychological, behavioral, and physiological outcomes are linked to posttraumatic growth,
all with relevance to working life. Research has also begun to explore the relationship between
posttraumatic growth and specic work- and career-related outcomes.
Well-being. In a meta-analysis of 87 cross-sectional studies relating posttraumatic growth to
health outcomes (Helgeson et al. 2006), growth was found to be positively related to measures
of well-being, including self-esteem and life satisfaction; negatively related to depression; and
unrelated to anxiety, global distress, quality of life, and subjective physical health. A few cross-
sectional studies have explored the positive association between posttraumatic growth and health-
promoting behaviors, such as lower levels of substance use (McDiarmid et al. 2017, Milam 2006),
suggesting a possible mediating mechanism for the growth–well-being relationship. Some longi-
tudinal studies of cancer-related posttraumatic growth and health-related quality of life, a measure
of mental well-being, also nd a positive relationship (e.g., Husson et al.2017). In a study of post-
traumatic growth after sexual assault, Frazier et al. (2001) found that early reports of positive
change that were maintained over time were related to less distress a year later. In contrast, a 17-
year study of former prisoners of war did not nd a relationship between earlier posttraumatic
growth and later PTSD (Dekel et al. 2012). In general,however, it appears that reports of growth,
especially when maintained, predict better subsequent well-being ( Joseph & Hefferon 2013).
Physiological outcomes. A small but important set of studies has explored the relationship be-
tween perceived posttraumatic growth and physiological outcomes. Research has found a link
between breast cancer–related posttraumatic growth and reductions in serum cortisol, a hormone
normally released in response to stress and that suppresses the immune system (Cruess et al. 2000),
and to increases in lymphocyte proliferation, an immune function protecting against breast cancer
progression and recurrence (McGregor et al. 2004). Similarly, studies of men with HIV found a
relationship between posttraumatic growth and CD4 T-cell counts, a measure of immune system
functioning, and between growth and lower rates of AIDS-related mortality (e.g., Milam 2006).
A study of hepatoma patients linked posttraumatic growth to higher peripheral blood leukocytes
and a 186 day longer average survival time (Dunigan et al. 2007). These studies do not establish
causality, but they show that posttraumatic growth is associated with positive changes in immune
functioning over time, with positive implications for people suffering from potentially terminal
diseases.
A novel study using functional fMRI techniques that investigated the relationship between
posttraumatic growth and neural functioning found a positive association between growth and
functional connectivity in parts of the brain that are associated with mentalizing, the ability to
reason about the mental states of oneself and others (Fujisawa et al. 2015). This is consistent with
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the relational facet of posttraumatic growth, and with research suggesting increased empathy in
those who have experienced growth after adversity (Vogel & Bolino 2019).
Work-related outcomes. A review of research on posttraumatic growth in disaster-exposed or-
ganizations reports that disaster workers who experience posttraumatic growth tend to feel they
have gained in self-esteem, a sense of accomplishment and meaningfulness in their work, and a
better understanding of their work (Brooks et al. 2018). Other research has explored the effects
of posttraumatic growth on identity outcomes. For example, Maitlis (2009) shows how posttrau-
matic growth leads to the development of new, positive identities in musicians who experienced
a career-ending injury, a nding consistent with research suggesting employees who experience
growth are more likely to develop resilient career identities and career proactivity (Vough & Caza
2017). Other writing on abusive supervision theorizes that workers who experience posttraumatic
growth may gain in condence about what they can do, pursue new roles and vocations, and en-
gage in positive leadership behavior toward others (Vogel & Bolino 2019).
CHALLENGING ISSUES IN THE STUDY OF POSTTRAUMATIC
GROWTH
With the development of the study of posttraumatic growth over the past two decades have come
challenging questions. Of particular importance are issues surrounding the veridicality of posttrau-
matic growth—whether individuals truly grow after adversity,or if they simply want to believe (or
want others to believe) that they have grown. A second key question concerns societal pressures
for personal growth, particularly in certain cultures, and the resulting imperative to nd the silver
lining even in completely devastating circumstances.
Do People Grow?
Probably the most fundamental challenge to the area of posttraumatic growth comes from ques-
tions about whether perceptions of having grown constitute “real” growth. This in part reects
differences in how growth is conceptualized, either as understanding oneself as having grown, or
as some more objectively measurable shift from one state to another. But there are also other po-
sitions alongside these stances. One is the argument, consistent with research on positive illusions
(Taylor 1989), that believing one has grown after an adverse experience is a cognitive reappraisal
strategy, typically unconscious, that helps people regain their sense of self-esteem and control. Re-
search has shown that positive illusions can be adaptive and enhance well-being (Taylor 1989), an
idea that links to a second set of arguments, that posttraumatic growth, or the process of nding
benets and growth in what has happened, is an effective coping strategy (Tennen & Afeck 2002).
However, research that nds that posttraumatic growth is not consistently related to well-being,
mood, or distress (e.g., Shakespeare-Finch & Lurie-Beck 2014) raises questions for some about
the veridicality of posttraumatic growth (Zoellner & Maercker 2006).
Emerging from this debate are proposals for the existence of different kinds of posttraumatic
growth: illusory versus constructive growth (Maercker & Zoellner 2004), perceived versus actual
growth (Frazier et al. 2009), and posttraumatic growth versus quantiable change (Johnson &
Boals 2015). Yet others maintain that nding quantiable evidence of growth is less important
than an individual’s sense of having gained and grown ( Joseph & Hefferon 2013). Indeed, those
working within a phenomenological or narrative tradition give primacy to individuals’ lived expe-
rience and the stories by which they live. Narrative scholars have long argued that “we become the
autobiographical narratives by which we ‘tell about’ our lives” (Bruner 2004, p. 694). From this
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perspective, then, a story of posttraumatic growth has enormous power, and is likely to engender
further change. Although these different positions are not necessarily reconcilable, longitudinal
research, which is still quite rare in the study of posttraumatic growth, may be able to bridge some
of these gaps. We return to this in the Future Directions for Research section.
Should People Grow?
An important issue concerns the potential danger of expecting that growth will or even should
follow adversity.Western cultures champion strength,invulnerability and independence; we want
to see people overcome their challenges, transcend, and grow from adversity (Wortman 2004).
This is perhaps especially the case in North America, where some note the “tyranny of the positive
attitude” (Held 2002) and argue that the relentless promotion of positive thinking leads to self-
blame and a focus on eliminating negative emotion (Ehrenreich 2009). People facing signicant
adversity may,in addition to experiencing distress, thus feel a pressure to nd growth in their pain.
Cordova (2008), for example, notes that individuals diagnosed with cancer are often beseeched
to “stay positive” and “look on the bright side,” sometimes with the suggestion that keeping a
positive outlook may protect against the cancer. Although this may feel empowering, it can also
be burdensome for those dealing with a life-threatening trauma.
Indeed, a recent study of patient adaptation to disability found that hoping for a reversal was
associated with poorer life satisfaction and quality of life than was acceptance of the condition
(Smith et al. 2009). In this case, hope seemed to prevent individuals from fully facing their dif-
cult situation, and potentially also from growing. More generally, if survivors feel normative
pressures to be growing, their distress, despair, and feelings of inadequacy are likely to increase.
As noted in the earlier discussion of attentive companionship, there exists a ne line between sup-
porting emergent posttraumatic growth and intervening to bring it about. Although an ideology
that venerates the positive may be enlivening, it can also turn growth into a destination that all
are expected to reach.
FUTURE DIRECTIONS FOR RESEARCH
Posttraumatic growth has been the subject of research for more than two decades. Hundreds of
studies have shown that people experience growth after struggling with signicantly adverse events
and have identied important factors that enable it to happen. There is, however, a real dearth of
research on posttraumatic growth in the context of work. Existing studies have focused primarily
on military and other “trauma-rich” contexts, or have explored secondary trauma in professions
oriented toward helping the traumatized. There is an enormous opportunity for research on post-
traumatic growth in ordinary kinds of work, where employees do not expect, but often encounter,
highly adverse experiences. Below, I highlight critical methodological considerations and explore
some important new questions for the study of work-related posttraumatic growth (see Table 2).
Methodological Imperatives
Looking ahead, we can take methodological lessons from extant research, using research designs
and approaches that overcome the limitations of many previous studies. Studying work-related
posttraumatic growth thus provides the chance to examine growth prospectively and longitudi-
nally,to explore it in a wider range of cultural contexts, to use multiple measures of growth, and to
gather assessments of growth both from individuals after adversity and from those close to them.
These ideas are elaborated further below.
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Table 2 Future directions for research
Methodological imperatives
More longitudinal research Track change.
Explore mechanisms of the posttraumatic growth process.
Cross-cultural research Investigate impact of culture on key elements of the process.
Explore the presence and meanings of posttraumatic growth across cultures.
Additional ways of assessing
growth
Use multitrait-multimethod approaches.
Use multiple raters.
New questions
Experiences prompting
posttraumatic growth at
work
Explore how and when posttraumatic growth follows work-related adversity, including after
multiple adverse events.
Investigate the potential for posttraumatic growth in new forms of work and organization.
Organizational conditions
enabling posttraumatic
growth at work
Identify organizational structures and cultural norms that enable posttraumatic growth.
Explore leadership practices that support and institutionalize attentive companionship.
Collective posttraumatic
growth in organizations
Examine the experience of collective trauma and growth in organizations.
Identify mechanisms and enablers of this process.
Longitudinal research.One of the greatest limitations of existing work on posttraumatic growth
is the dearth of prospective and longitudinal studies. To date, the eld has been dominated by
cross-sectional studies in which growth is assessed retrospectively by asking participants how much
they think they have grown since an adverse event. There are several reasons why this may be a
problematic measure of growth ( Jayawickreme & Blackie 2016); more generally, one cannot assess
change or causality through cross-sectional research. Although the number of longitudinal studies
of posttraumatic growth is increasing, few have prospective designs (taking measures prior to the
adverse event). The challenges of doing prospective research on posttraumatic growth are clear:
As most traumatic experiences are unexpected, large-scale data gathering and follow up would be
required to determine the impact. However, nonprospective longitudinal studies also bring with
them a set of methodological difculties, including attrition and baseline measurements taken
after the traumatic event, when growth may already have occurred (Tedeschi et al. 2018). Yet such
work is crucial for the development of this eld, and various dynamic modeling techniques exist
that may be valuable in conducting longitudinal analyses (Wang et al. 2016).
A recent meta-analysis of longitudinal research on 102 independent samples found that positive
change occurs after negative life events, although differentially across different measures of change
(Mangelsdorf et al. 2019). The analysis included one study specically of growth and others of
subcomponents of posttraumatic growth, such as personal strength and positive relationships—
the variable that showed the most consistent positive change after a negative event. While such
a meta-analysis is a valuable step forward, many studies in the meta-analysis explored change in
variables not normally considered part of posttraumatic growth, such as self-esteem and autonomy.
Moreover, and importantly for the purposes of this review, the studies were almost all of personal
adversity; very few explored posttraumatic growth in in a work context.
More longitudinal research would also permit us to address questions about the timing of
posttraumatic growth post-event, as well as its durability and possible trajectories. Although some
meta-analyses have found stronger relationships between posttraumatic growth and positive men-
tal health the longer the time since the event (Helgeson et al. 2006), other research has identied
different trajectories of posttraumatic growth, such that for different individuals posttraumatic
growth may increase, decrease, or remain constant over a two-year period (Husson et al. 2017,
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Tsai et al. 2015). This work addresses important temporal issues of posttraumatic growth that
deserve much more attention.
Qualitative research has enriched the study of work-related posttraumatic growth, exploring
growth in a wide range of occupational groups, identifying new facets of growth, and offering
insights into the construction of narratives of posttraumatic growth. Yet here there is an opportu-
nity for longitudinal research that allows a close investigation of the mechanisms through which
posttraumatic growth unfolds and the contextual factors that enable it.
Cross-cultural research. Empirical research on posttraumatic growth has been dominated by
studies in Western settings, especially American. There is now, however, a growing body of work
on posttraumatic growth in other cultural contexts (Weiss & Berger 2010). As this literature con-
tinues to develop, it will allow us to explore cultural assumptions inherent in it, and to consider
how culture might inuence individuals’ experiences of posttraumatic growth.
There are several ways in which posttraumatic growth is likely to be affected by culture
(Kashyap & Hussain 2018, Splevins et al. 2010). First, culture will affect whether an event dis-
rupts core assumptions. Such assumptions, as well as what constitutes a trauma and what may be
experienced as traumatic, differ from one culture to another (Laungani 1997). In Brazil, for ex-
ample, a study showed that mothers of low socioeconomic status did not nd the death of their
babies traumatic, both because it was a relatively common event, and because they believed the
child would have guaranteed happiness in the next world (Scheper-Hughes 1993). These mothers
might therefore not be expected to experience such high levels of distress as many other women,
or to feel the same compulsion to make meaning of what has happened. The ndings of this study
are consistent with research that has shown those in the West tend to assume more responsibility
for events in their lives, believing that they have more control over what happens to them than do
those in Eastern cultures (Kashyap & Hussain 2018). Individuals embedded in Eastern cultures are
thus more likely to respond to a traumatic event with acceptance and a sense of destiny, whereas
those from the West may feel compelled to “solve the problem” through sensemaking (Splevins
et al. 2010). Culture thus affects understandings of growth and whether or how it may happen.
Cultural differences are also found in the experience and expression of emotions, and the ac-
ceptability of sharing one’s difculties with other people. In collectivist cultures, more common in
the East, expressing negative emotions is regarded as shameful and potentially disruptive to group
harmony (Weiss & Berger 2010). More individualistic cultures, especially the United States and
parts of Northern Europe, have a long history of seeking professional help for personal difculties
and psychological problems (Cushman 1995). Because emotion regulation and sensemaking are
important for posttraumatic growth, we might expect these cultural differences to make posttrau-
matic growth less common in Eastern cultures. This effect might be counterbalanced, however, by
the greater ease with which social support can be found within collectivist communities. In sum, we
have reason to believe that cultural factors will affect the possibility and process of posttraumatic
growth in various ways. Bringing a cultural lens to posttraumatic growth raises more questions
than it answers. But these are critically important questions, and more research is urgently needed
to address them.
Other methodological considerations. Amid the debate surrounding the veridicality of post-
traumatic growth have come recommendations to gather additional assessments of growth. These
include the use of a multitrait-multimethod approach (Frazier et al. 2014), or corroborating self-
reported growth with assessments by friends, family, and coworkers (Helgeson 2010). There are
potential problems with even these careful approaches, including, for example,the likelihood that
certain aspects of growth may not be enacted behaviorally (e.g., appreciation for life), or be visible
412 Maitlis
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to others (e.g., growth in spirituality). Still, they merit consideration. Work-related posttraumatic
growth might allow the gathering of multiple sources of data from an employee and his or her
immediate coworkers, as has become common in 360 evaluation initiatives. Yet, posttraumatic
growth is not a performance, and many people will not want colleagues to know what they have
been through. Having one’s growth appraised by others at work in these circumstances could feel
highly intrusive.
New Questions
Despite the burgeoning body of research on posttraumatic growth, many questions remain unan-
swered. Future research offers an opportunity to examine growth after additional kinds of work-
related trauma and also growth following multiple adverse events. Importantly, the study of work-
related posttraumatic growth can also shed light on organizational practices and cultures that
enable and constrain growth, and on collective processes of trauma and growth.
Experiences prompting posttraumatic growth at work. Considerable research exists on highly
adverse events in the workplace. These include abusive supervision; sexual harassment; bullying;
as well as a death, accident, shooting, or other violent acts (e.g., Tepper et al. 2017). Organizational
restructurings and redundancies can also be very difcult, individually and collectively (Greenglass
& Burke 2001). We wish that people did not have such experiences at work, but they do, and all
too often. Although we can seek to reduce its frequency and impact, workplace adversity will not
disappear. In the new world of work, it may even increase. Is there a possibility for growth after
such experiences? Research on posttraumatic growth would suggest so, and yet we know very
little about it. Without minimizing the destructive experience of highly adverse workplace events,
research addressing this question could be of value to employees who have suffered, and those
seeking to support them. A study following employees over time would also permit examination
of another important and largely unaddressed issue in posttraumatic growth research, which is the
common experience and impact of sequential adverse events (for example, a workplace accident,
followed at a later date by a difcult restructuring initiative) on the posttraumatic growth process.
Organizational conditions enabling posttraumatic growth. Research on posttraumatic growth
has tended to examine the individual processes through which posttraumatic growth emerges,
and how these are enabled by the role of social support from immediate others. Considering the
process of posttraumatic growth in the context of organizational life raises intriguing questions
about the structures, practices, and cultural norms that support and enable the occurrence of
posttraumatic growth for employees, and those that are likely to impede it. Recent research on
compassion in organizations (Worline & Dutton 2017) and studies of companionate cultures
(Barsade & O’Neill 2014, O’Neill & Rothbard 2015) offer important insights in this direction but
more research is needed to explore the difference that leaders, managers, and various organiza-
tional practices can make in the development of posttraumatic growth after signicant workplace
adversity.
Collective trauma and posttraumatic growth in organizations. Another important direction
for future research is the study of trauma and posttraumatic growth as they occur among groups
of individuals in an organization. To date, posttraumatic growth research has been dominated by
studies of individuals’ growth following a traumatic event. Although these include events such as
natural disasters or mass shootings that affect many people at a time (e.g., Wusik et al. 2015), there
is a dearth of research on posttraumatic growth as a collective process. Research on trauma and
www.annualreviews.org Posttraumatic Growth at Work 413
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suffering in organizations (e.g., Kahn 2019, Powley 2009,Worline & Dutton 2017) highlights the
important ways in which employees can affect each other’s experiences of distress and recovery.
Yet we still know very little about how the process of posttraumatic growth may be affected by
experiencing it alongside others who have suffered in a similar way (Lechner & Antoni 2004).
Such research could make a signicant contribution to the posttraumatic growth literature, and
to our understanding of collective healing processes in organizations more generally.
CONCLUSION
This article has sought to introduce work-related posttraumatic growth to those unfamiliar with
it, provide an up-to-date review of the literature for those with an interest in it and, through
Figure 1, inspire more research on posttraumatic growth as it is experienced in the context of
work and organizations. This is an area rich with important implications for our understanding of
individual and collective processes of growth, and the organizational conditions that facilitate and
impede them. We all wish that work-related and personal trauma were on the decrease, but there
is no sign of that. In this context, it is somewhat miraculous that research shows that people can
not only recover from terrible adversity but potentially reap from it, showing the extraordinary
strength and creativity that characterizes humanity at its best.
DISCLOSURE STATEMENT
The author is not aware of any afliations, memberships, funding, or nancial holdings that might
be perceived as affecting the objectivity of this review.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Many thanks to Susan Ashford, Jane Dutton, Tom Lawrence, and Frederick Morgeson for their
very valuable feedback on earlier drafts of this review. Thanks also to Marie-Thérèse Wright for
her steadfast help with production.
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Annual Review
of Organizational
Psychology and
Organizational
Behavior
Volume 7, 2020
Contents
Becoming an Organizational Scholar
Denise M. Rousseau pppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppp1
Regulatory Focus and Fit Effects in Organizations
E. Tory Higgins and Federica Pinelli pppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppp25
Implicit Leadership Theories, Implicit Followership Theories,
and Dynamic Processing of Leadership Information
Robert G. Lord, Olga Epitropaki, Roseanne J. Foti, and Tiffany Keller Hansbrough ppppp49
The Psychology of Workplace Mentoring Relationships
Lillian T. Eby and Melissa M. Robertson pppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppp75
Perceived Organizational Support: Why Caring About
Employees Counts
Robert Eisenberger, Linda Rhoades Shanock, and Xueqi Wen pppppppppppppppppppppppppppp101
Beyond Meta-Analysis: Secondary Uses of Meta-Analytic Data
In-Sue Oh pppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppp125
The Integration of People and Networks
Martin Kilduff and Jung Won Lee ppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppp155
Discharges, Poor-Performer Quits, and Layoffs as Valued Exits:
Is It Really Addition by Subtraction?
Charlie O. Trevor and Rakoon Piyanontalee pppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppp181
Measurement Development and Evaluation
Michael J. Zickar pppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppp213
Asian Conceptualizations of Leadership: Progresses and Challenges
R. Takeuchi, A.C. Wang, and J.L. Farh pppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppp233
Modern Discrimination in Organizations
Mikki Hebl, Shannon K. Cheng, and Linnea C. Ng pppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppp257
Can Teamwork Promote Safety in Organizations?
Eduardo Salas, Tiffany M. Bisbey, Allison M. Traylor, and Michael A. Rosen pppppppppp283
Job Seeking: The Process and Experience of Looking for a Job
Connie R. Wanberg, Abdifatah A. Ali, and Borbala Csillag pppppppppppppppppppppppppppppp315
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Assessing the Control Literature: Looking Back and Looking Forward
Sim B. Sitkin, Chris P. Long, and Laura B. Cardinal pppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppp339
Toward a Better Understanding of Behavioral Ethics in the Workplace
David De Cremer and Celia Moore pppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppp369
Posttraumatic Growth at Work
Sally Maitlis ppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppp395
Within-Person Job Performance Variability Over Short Timeframes:
Theory, Empirical Research, and Practice
Reeshad S. Dalal, Balca Alaybek, and Filip Lievens ppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppp421
Positive Emotions at Work
Ed Diener, Stuti Thapa, and Louis Tay ppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppp451
Multiteam Systems: An Integrated Review and Comparison
of Different Forms
Stephen J. Zaccaro, Samantha Dubrow, Elisa M. Torres,
and Lauren N.P. Campbell pppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppp479
Big Data in Industrial-Organizational Psychology and Human
Resource Management: Forward Progress for Organizational
Research and Practice
Frederick L. Oswald, Tara S. Behrend, Dan J. Putka, and Evan Sinar pppppppppppppppp505
Errata
An online log of corrections to Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and
Organizational Behavior articles may be found at http://www.annualreviews.org/errata/
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... These benefits popularly known as Posttraumatic Growth (PTG) are experienced in different forms including increased awareness of the self, others, and the world, greater sense of personal strength, improved relationships with others as well as deeper appreciation of life. Posttraumatic growth (PTG) basically represents continuous strategic coping which manifests itself as enhancement in psychological functioning following a "struggle" with traumatic event (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 1996;2004;Maitlis, 2020). It originates from the spirited efforts made by trauma-affected individuals to rebuild their world after being exposed to major emotional upheaval. ...
... The current finding can, therefore, be explained using Calhoun and Tedeschi's (2006) theoretical model which posits that traumatic events of "seismic" proportion sets in motion series of cognitive engagement including rumination which leads to PTG emergence and enhanced adaptation. Individuals who had confronted and struggled with extremely adverse situations in their life time appear to develop enhanced psychological functioning which manifest as strategic coping behaviour and resilience (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 2004;Oginska-Bulik, 2015;Maitlis, 2020). ...
Article
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This study investigated the role of religious commitment and resilience as predictors of posttraumatic growth (PTG) in a Nigerian sample of trauma survivors. The study adopted a cross-sectional survey approach involving a sample of 519 male and female adult participants (m=47.94, SD=9.14) aged between 35-65 years recruited through convenience sampling. Three standard measures namely; Religious Commitment Inventory (RCI-1O), Resilience scale (RS-14) and the Posttraumatic Growth Inventory (PTGI) were used for data collection. Data analysis was conducted using multiple regression analysis and Pearson's r correlation statistical techniques. Results showed that religious commitment significantly predicted PTG (β=.59, t(519)=16.73, p<.001) as well as Resilience (β=.34, t(519)=7.27, p<.001). Furthermore, religious commitment was shown to correlate positively with resilience (r=.66, p<.001). Clinical implications of these findings were discussed.
... This supports existing evidence that failure to satisfy basic psychological needs in times of uncertainty such as the pandemic can produce confusion and distress (Vermote et al., 2022). Maitlis (2020) argues that PTG can be facilitated by sensemaking, "a meaning-making process through which people work to understand unexpected or confusing events" (p. 405). ...
Article
Full-text available
Before the drastic disruption caused by the sudden emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, 85% of the United Kingdom’s 14,000 orchestral musicians were self-employed freelance workers, engaged in busy and varied portfolio careers comprising a combination of orchestral, West End theatre, chamber music, and commercial recording work. Between May and June 2020 we carried out a first study examining the impact of the pandemic on the lives of 24 self-employed orchestral musicians, all established freelancers. Twelve were mid-career and 12 were late-career (described in that study as “seasoned”). They all reported having lost their much-loved performing careers, missing music making and colleagues, and being anxious about the future of the music profession. However, there were some differences between the two groups: the late-career participants demonstrated greater financial and emotional resilience, while the mid-career musicians reported distress, confusion, and anxiety about their identity as musicians. In the present follow-up study, we aimed to examine the impact of the first year of the pandemic on the lives of 21 of the same musicians. We found that while all the mid-career participants remained committed to their performing careers, many late-career participants aged 54–59 had developed interests in non-performing music work, and the older late-career participants, aged 65 and over, feared that they might already, de facto , have retired. We discuss the findings with reference to the precarity of freelance orchestral musicians’ lives, lifespan models of musicians’ careers, self-determination theory and post-traumatic growth, and their implications for music colleges and musicians’ support organizations.
... However, these dramatic changes have also had positive impacts, such as the majority of people working from home welcoming the change and some reporting higher efficiency and productivity (Ipsen et al., 2021). Thus, posttraumatic growth, or "transformative positive change that can occur as a result of a struggle with great adversity" (Maitlis, 2020) has been experienced in many fields, including the workplace. The pandemic impacted on work-related health and well-being, by both compromising our (employees, managers, and professionals') ability to support individuals and organisations but at the same time providing new opportunities for growth in workplace health, well-being and performance. ...
Article
Full-text available
This special issue integrates new evidence on learnings from the pandemic for work, health and well-being, and the management of workplace health. It brings together some of the latest research in workplace health management to develop a better understanding of the gains and learnings from the pandemic for individuals and explore how these benefits can be embedded into how we design jobs, how we support and manage work, and how we build/manage organisations.
... Most empirical studies have found that growth is not a direct consequence of the trauma but is a result of the way a person copes with it. Active and positive coping, in which individuals reexamine the conventions they have promoted all their lives, is what allows individuals who have experienced a trauma to adapt their behavior and lifestyle to the new situation and to experience growth following the crisis (Maitlis 2020). ...
Article
Full-text available
The present study sheds light on the phenomenon whereby groups experience adversity, following which they show signs of growth. We propose the conceptualization of post-traumatic growth as a phenomenon that also exists at the group level, “community post-traumatic growth” (CPTG). The concept of CPTG is explained using a case study on the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Israel following the first wave of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. The study describes shared characteristics of Israeli ultra-Orthodox society and the crisis it experienced during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, both in terms of physiological features such as the relatively high proportion of affected people and in terms of psychological characteristics such as the shut-down of synagogues and yeshivas, and the perceived discrimination they experienced from the general population in Israel. The present study views the sense of discrimination as a traumatic factor at the group level. In total, 256 participants completed online questionnaires examining three hypotheses: (1) sense of discrimination (trauma) will be correlated with level of CPTG; (2) the level of identification with the ultra-Orthodox culture will be positively related to CPTG, while the level of identification with Israeli culture will be negatively correlated with CPTG; (3) the level of life satisfaction of the individual will be predicted by CPTG. The results supported the hypotheses and are discussed at length in the discussion section.
... Entrepreneurship research shows that stress can have psychological and behavioral implications for entrepreneurs. Although the outcomes of stress are mainly negative, there are some understudied positive outcomes that occur after experiencing stress (e.g., post-traumatic growth [Maitlis, 2020]). While stress has short-term negative effects on well-being due to discrepancies between current and desired states, coping efforts are often employed to reduce that discrepancy, leading to long-term positive outcomes of stress (Carver & Scheier, 1982) that are indicative of resilience such as enhanced cognitive functioning and imagination (Byron et al., 2010;Sandi, 2013). ...
Article
Full-text available
Despite the increasing interest in studying the concept of resilience in entrepreneurship, existing research often fails to account for stressors that induce entrepreneurs' need for resilience and coping efforts. By arguing the need to study stress, resilience, and coping together to understand how entrepreneurs build resilience in the face of adversities, we systematically review the en-trepreneurship scholarship (125 articles) on these three concepts. By critically appraising these three literatures in light of current thinking in psychology, we then develop a model of the process of building psychological resilience in entrepreneurship and offer a clear pathway for future research.
... On the GNP, stories of boom and bust in primary industries and dependence on external heroes reveal an entrenched myth that will take considerable effort to uproot -particularly due to the external locus of control described by residents and collective traumas from failed development projects. Our findings hint at potentially valuable links between psychological well-being and community self-determination, which future research could explore by examining the relationship between individual trauma and collective efforts to make sense of these experiences (Maitlis 2020). Yet, our community renewal stories also show how residents are challenging these myths through self-directed initiatives such as community clinics, local agriculture movements and heritage sites. ...
Article
Full-text available
Stories have the power to shape understanding of community sustainability. Yet in places on the periphery of capitalist systems, such as rural and resource-based regions, this power can be used to impose top–down narratives on to local residents. Academic research often reinforces these processes by telling damage-centric narratives that portray communities as depleted and broken, which perpetuates power imbalances between academia and community members, while disempowering local voices. This article explores the potential of storytelling as a means for local actors to challenge top–down notions of rural sustainability, drawing on a community-based research initiative on the Great Northern Peninsula (GNP) of Newfoundland. Five of the authors are community change-makers and one is an academic researcher. We challenge deficiencies-based narratives told about rural Newfoundland and Labrador, in which the GNP is often characterised by a narrow set of socio-economic indicators that overlook the region’s many tangible and intangible assets. Grounded in a participatory asset mapping and storytelling process, a ‘deep story’ of regional sustainability based on community members’ voices contrasts narratives of decline with stories of hope, and shares community renewal initiatives told by the dynamic individuals leading them. This article contributes to regional development efforts on the GNP, scholarship on sustainability in rural and remote communities, and efforts to realise alternative forms of university-community engagement that centre community members’ voices and support self-determination.
... After the waves of COVID-19 disease have receded, a tsunami of mental health issues is expected to follow, caused by both acute traumatic suffering and the cumulative, chronic effects of lockdown and isolation (Brooks et al., 2020). These problems are likely to be experienced on a range of levels and across diverse contexts; trauma and posttraumatic effects can be experienced by individuals, sometimes within particular organizations and sometimes across entire sectors (Greenberg & Hibbert, 2020;Maitlis, 2020;Tedeschi et al., 2018;Van der Kolk, 2014). As we struggle with situations leading to despair, fear and grief, posttraumatic stress is a real risk (Van der Kolk, 2014). ...
... After the waves of COVID-19 disease have receded, a tsunami of mental health issues is expected to follow, caused by both acute traumatic suffering and the cumulative, chronic effects of lockdown and isolation (Brooks et al., 2020). These problems are likely to be experienced on a range of levels and across diverse contexts; trauma and posttraumatic effects can be experienced by individuals, sometimes within particular organizations and sometimes across entire sectors (Greenberg & Hibbert, 2020;Maitlis, 2020;Tedeschi et al., 2018;Van der Kolk, 2014). As we struggle with situations leading to despair, fear and grief, posttraumatic stress is a real risk (Van der Kolk, 2014). ...
Article
Lack of safe and stable housing is a pernicious and growing social concern, and stereotypes about individuals experiencing houselessness are generally quite negative. Little scholarly work has examined housing insecurity and its associated stereotypes in employment contexts. The purpose of the current research was to examine, in the context of the hospitality industry, whether housing status influences hiring managers' perceptions of hireability (Study 1) and customers' evaluations of an organization and its employees (Study 2) using the stereotype content model. Across two experimental studies, we assessed participant attitudes toward individuals experiencing houselessness. In Study 1, we instructed 148 hotel managers to listen to a hypothetical job interview with either an unhoused or housed job applicant, and then complete measures of hireability. In Study 2, we instructed 139 hotel customers to observe a hypothetical interaction with either an unhoused or housed employee, and then evaluate the employee and the organization. Study 1's findings suggested an indirect effect of housing status on perceived hireability through warmth, and this indirect relationship was moderated by gender. Men who were houseless were rated lower in warmth, and thus lower in hireability, than non‐houseless men or women regardless of their housing status. However, houseless men were perceived by customers as warmer than non‐houseless men as employees, driving higher evaluations of the organization and the employee (Study 2). Hiring initiatives targeted at providing short‐term housing for unhoused employees will benefit employees, employers, and the larger communities they encompass.
Chapter
This chapter explores the concept of vicarious traumatization and how it can be an occupational hazard for professional communicators. We explore post-traumatic organizational growth, and the psychology of grieving and loss. Lastly, we discuss how communicators can use awareness of these concepts to serve as change agents and help unlock energy in their organizations.
Article
Full-text available
How work gets done has changed fundamentally in recent decades, with a growing number of people working independently, outside of organizations in a style of work quite different from that assumed by many organizational behavior theories. To remain relevant, our research on individual work behaviors and the capabilities that enable them must also adapt to this new world of work, the so-called “gig economy.” We first describe the predictable challenges that individuals confront when working in this manner, including remaining viable, staying organized, maintaining identity, sustaining relationships, and coping emotionally. We then articulate a research agenda that pushes our field to focus on the specific capabilities and behaviors that enable people to manage these challenges effectively so as to survive or thrive in this new world of work. Foregrounding individual agency, we articulate the work and relational behaviors necessary for such thriving, and the cognitive and emotional capabilities that undergird them.
Article
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Background Post-traumatic growth is defined as positive psychological, social or spiritual growth after a trauma. Objectives This systematic review aimed to identify studies that quantitatively measured post-traumatic growth among (ex-) military personnel, to determine whether there is evidence of growth in this context and whether such growth is associated with any sociodemographic, military, trauma or mental health factors. Data sources The electronic databases PsycInfo, OVIDmedline and Embase were searched for studies published between 2001 and 2017. Study eligibility criteria and participants Papers were retained if they involved military or ex-military personnel, where some had been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. Study appraisal Quality assessment was conducted on all studies. Results 21 studies were retained. The Post-Traumatic Growth Inventory was employed by 14 studies: means ranged from 32.60 (standard deviation = 14.88) to 59.07 (23.48). The Post-Traumatic Growth Inventory Short Form was used by five studies: means ranged from 17.11 (14.88) to 20.40 (11.88). These values suggest moderate growth. Higher levels of social support, spirituality and rumination and minority ethnicity were most frequently associated with more post-traumatic growth. Limitations The involved studies may lack generalisability and methodological quality. Conclusions Overall, this paper confirms that negative reactions to trauma, particularly post-traumatic stress disorder, are not the only possible outcomes for service personnel, as moderate post-traumatic growth can also be observed. Implications of key findings Interventions aimed at helping current and former armed forces personnel to identify and promote post-traumatic growth post-conflict may be beneficial for their well-being.
Article
Full-text available
Previous literature on growth after major life events has primarily focused on negative experiences and operationalized growth with measures which rely on the post hoc self-perception of change. Because this method is prone to many biases, two questions have become increasingly controversial: Is there genuine growth after major life events and does growth require suffering? The present meta-analysis is the first synthesis of longitudinal research on the effects of life events on at least one subdomain of psychological well-being, posttraumatic, or postecstatic growth. Studies needed to have a longitudinal design, assess changes through independent measures over time, and provide sufficient data to estimate change scores. The present meta-analysis comprises 364 effect sizes from 154 independent samples (total N = 98,436) in 122 longitudinal studies. A positive trend has been found for self-esteem, positive relationships, and mastery in prospective studies after both positive and negative events. We found no general evidence for the widespread conviction that negative life events have a stronger effect than positive ones. No genuine growth was found for meaning and spirituality. In the majority of studies with control groups, results did not significantly differ between event and control group, indicating that changes in the outcome variables cannot simply be attributed to the occurrence of the investigated life events. More controlled prospective studies are necessary to validate the genuine nature of postevent growth. Overall, the meta-analysis provides a systematic overview of the state of life event research and delineates important guidelines for future research on genuine growth.
Article
Empirical studies (n = 39) that documented positive change following trauma and adversity (e.g., posttraumatic growth, stress‐related growth, perceived benefit, thriving; collectively described as adversarial growth) were reviewed. The review indicated that cognitive appraisal variables (threat, harm, and controllability), problem‐focused, acceptance and positive reinterpretation coping, optimism, religion, cognitive processing, and positive affect were consistently associated with adversarial growth. The review revealed inconsistent associations between adversarial growth, sociodemographic variables (gender, age, education, and income), and psychological distress variables (e.g., depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder). However, the evidence showed that people who reported and maintained adversarial growth over time were less distressed subsequently. Methodological limitations and recommended future directions in adversarial growth research are discussed, and the implications of adversarial growth for clinical practice are briefly considered.
Article
In this review, we conceptualize teamwork as the linchpin driving safety performance throughout an organization. Safety is promoted by teams through various mechanisms that interact in a complex and dynamic process. We press pause on this dynamic process to organize a discussion highlighting the critical role played by teamwork factors in the engagement of safe and unsafe behavior, identifying five team-level emergent states that enable effective teamwork and safety: psychological safety, team trust, collective efficacy, shared mental models, and situation awareness. Additionally, we consider foundational conditions that support team-driven safety, the development of safety culture, and the importance of team safety climate in shaping performance. We discuss leveraging teams to generate safety and identify directions for future research investigating the relationship between teamwork and safety. Overall, we submit that researchers and practitioners would benefit from taking a systems perspective of safety by integrating principles of team science to better understand and promote safety in organizations. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, Volume 7 is January 21, 2020. Please see http://www.annualreviews.org/page/journal/pubdates for revised estimates.
Book
Posttraumatic Growth reworks and overhauls the seminal 2006 Handbook of Posttraumatic Growth. It provides a wide range of answers to questions concerning knowledge of posttraumatic growth (PTG) theory, its synthesis and contrast with other theories and models, and its applications in diverse settings. The book starts with an overview of the history, components, and outcomes of PTG. Next, chapters review quantitative, qualitative, and cross-cultural research on PTG, including in relation to cognitive function, identity formation, cross-national and gender differences, and similarities and differences between adults and children. The final section shows readers how to facilitate optimal outcomes with PTG at the level of the individual, the group, the community, and society.
Article
As disasters become increasingly prevalent, and reported on, a wealth of literature on post-disaster mental health has been published. Most published evidence focuses on symptoms of mental health problems (such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety) and psychosocial factors increasing the risk of such symptoms. However, a recent shift in the literature has moved to exploring resilience and the absence of adverse lasting mental health effects following a disaster. This paper undertakes a qualitative review of the literature to explore factors affecting psychological resilience, as well as the potential positive impact of experiencing a disaster (post-traumatic growth) by examining the literature on employees in disaster-exposed organisations. We identify several protective factors: training, experience, and perceived (personal) competence; social support; and effective coping strategies. Post-traumatic growth frequently appeared to occur at both personal and professional levels for those rescue staff after a disaster, giving employees a greater appreciation of life and their relationships, enhancing their self-esteem and providing a sense of accomplishment and better understanding of their work. Implications, in terms of how to build a resilient workforce, are discussed.