Case Study
Case Study

Humanising organisations: A trauma-informed approach to staff wellbeing

Written by Leanne Dagger, Wellbeing Lead at Freedom from Torture

August 29, 2023
5 min read
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Individuals working within the refugee and migration sector are frequently confronted with the stories of survivors who have experienced trauma and adversity. This exposure, coupled with the emotional demands of the job, can take a toll on the wellbeing of staff. Recognising the vital importance of supporting its workplace community, Freedom from Torture began to explore what a Trauma-Informed Wellbeing Framework could and should look like. In this blog we share our journey so far, and what our learning tells us about the steps for the future. 

Why develop a framework for wellbeing?

A wellbeing framework is a structured and organised approach to promoting and enhancing the wellbeing of staff within a workplace context. It serves as a guide for creating a comprehensive approach to wellbeing that considers the multiple dimensions of being human, including an individual’s physical, mental, emotional, social, and financial health. Freedom from Torture were keen to explore an opportunity to provide a flexible structure around staff wellbeing which can adapt to evolving needs and circumstances. The purpose of which was to avoid a narrow focus on a single aspect of wellbeing and create a well-rounded, consistent, and sustainable method of recognising and responding to staff wellbeing needs within the workplace. 

Prioritising the wellbeing of its staff reflects Freedom from Torture’s ethical commitment to the health of its employees and demonstrates a social responsibility and a commitment to being a caring and responsible employer. Overall, the intention of the wellbeing framework is to undertake a strategic and proactive approach that benefits staff, the organisation, and the survivor community that we serve. 

A framework in development

The journey to developing a Trauma-Informed Wellbeing Framework emerged several years ago, before the global pandemic, and initially centred upon consultation, in many formats, with staff from across the organisation. Utilising staff community forums and surveys, discussions and workshops, to identify the diverse nature of wellbeing needs and considerations relevant to the staff at Freedom from Torture. Analysis of the data identified 6 main themes crucial to not only supporting, but also enhancing staff wellbeing, these included:

  • Recognition, respect, and feeling appreciated
  • Effective communication 
  • Management and Leadership 
  • The emotional and emotive nature of the work 
  • Connecting with core values
  • Training and development opportunities

Thematic analysis of these listening activities, and with the addition of extra resource with the introduction of a Wellbeing Lead role in 2021, led to the development of a systemic approach to the framework, one which encapsulates the above considerations into 4 distinct layers; practical wellbeing initiatives, people management and support, organisational health, and trauma-informed organisation.  

A diagram of wellbeing and supportDescription automatically generated

(Source: Freedom from Torture 2023)

The rationale for this approach is simply that staff wellbeing is not a separate entity within the workplace, or a simple challenge to address. Wellbeing initiatives and resources which standalone or are felt to be external or additional to everyday workplace experiences, cannot provide proactive and lasting positive impact. Centring staff support within and across all aspects of the organisation, is crucial to providing a holistic approach to individual and collective wellbeing.

Furthermore, and what arose from staff consultation at Freedom from Torture, is that there is an additional necessity for this approach to be routed within human experience. Developing a framework with a trauma-informed approach - through the lens by which the organisation can recognise and respond to the inherent risks associated with working with, for, and alongside survivors of torture, is fundamental.

Taking a trauma-informed approach 

A trauma-informed approach recognises the widespread impact of trauma across populations and emphasises creating an environment that is sensitive, supportive, and empowering for survivors. This approach shifts the focus from asking "What's wrong with you?" to "What happened to you?" It acknowledges that trauma can significantly affect an individual's mental and physical health, behaviour, and overall wellbeing. A trauma-informed approach acknowledges that trauma can affect not only clients but also those who work with them, emphasising the importance of self-care and sensitivity.

In addition, by taking a trauma-informed lens to how we view staff wellbeing we can explicitly recognise the prevalence and impact of trauma, understanding the potential triggers, and create an environment for staff and clients that promotes safety, empowerment, and compassion. Applying a trauma-informed approach provides a set of guiding principles that can be integrated into the organisation’s practices.

The 5 key principles of a trauma-informed approach to staff wellbeing

  • Safety: Creating an environment where staff feel physically and emotionally safe. 
  • Trust: Encouraging open communication and transparency to promote a culture of trust.
  • Empowerment: Empowering staff to make decisions about their work and their own self-care. 
  • Choice: Recognising individual needs and preferences and encouraging individuals to take an active role in shaping their own wellbeing strategies.
  • Collaboration: Fostering collaboration and respect amongst staff, teams, and the wider community. Acknowledging and valuing diverse skills, backgrounds, and experiences.

Benefits of a trauma-informed approach to staff wellbeing

There are many benefits to applying a trauma-informed approach to staff wellbeing and by doing so Freedom from Torture aims to empower staff, individually and collectively, to consider wellbeing needs throughout the organisation. Reducing stigma around conversations relating to wellbeing and explicitly acknowledging the potential negative impact of the nature of this work, encourages open dialogue and de-stigmatises seeking support, as need arises. When staff members are supported with the tools to manage their own wellbeing in a supportive environment, they are better equipped to navigate the challenges of the work while maintaining their own mental and emotional health. Similarly, when an organisation is cognizant of the potential impact of the work upon its staff and takes proactive steps to mitigate this, it is an informed and empowered collective.

A trauma-informed approach can foster a sense of unity amongst the workplace community. It encourages a culture of mutual support, empathy, and understanding, enhancing collaboration across the organisation. Furthermore, this collaboration builds a culture of learning, and values the experiences and expertise of everyone.

The learning so far

1. Even the smallest of steps are a start 

We cannot realistically do everything all at once, and after the initial staff consultation phase, those first steps towards exploring solutions and introducing new strategies can feel somewhat daunting. The complex nature of working within human systems can understandably lead to overwhelm, the perceived size or difficulty and complexity of a challenge can result in hesitancy and questioning of validity of the proposed solution. But, developing conversations into action is indeed a start, and a compassionate community can appreciate these challenges together, providing a collective scaffold of reassurance and support. Starting somewhere is a start, no matter how small or tentative those initial steps may seem.

2. Change is the one constant factor

The context within which we work is ever-changing, as are people’s own individual experiences, and personal and professional circumstances. At Freedom from Torture, as expected, energy and pace has fluctuated in response to the context and needs of the workplace community. Subsequently, development and implementation of the framework has not been a linear process, and this has resulted in some strategies being further developed than others, at different stages through the journey. The continual process of capturing data – listening to staff and holding space for sharing of experiences, has resulted in re-prioritisation of focus and activity. It is more than an action plan or a strategy - being willing to adapt and being transparent about when and why these shifts happen, can continue to nurture a collaborative approach, encouraging on-going engagement. Even at times when pace may be slower than expected.

3. Not everything develops at the same pace, or the pace you had expected

The influential shift needed to thread and weave wellbeing throughout the organisation is not a quick process. For every new or developing strategy implemented, it can feel that there are many more waiting in the wings. A commitment to the time it will take to start to see, and feel, the benefit is needed. Clarity on expectations is crucial within this process. Currently at Freedom from Torture, some areas of the framework are significantly further developed than others; this is not always because they are of greater importance, but simply some strategies are more readily available to workplaces (such as Employee Assistance Programmes), than others. Some areas of focus inevitably require more time to fully explore and carefully craft solutions to meet the specific needs of an organisation, or a team within it. 

4. Development is a continual, learning process

Approaching the development of a wellbeing framework as a continual learning process, introducing a test & learn methodology which enables an organisation to learn quickly about what works for its specific staff, means that not every initiative will be successful, and that’s ok. Some strategies and programmes which are introduced will have an almost immediate positive impact, whilst others may not. What is helpful for staff at one point in time, may not always have a consistent level of impact or engagement. These are context dependent and what feels important can change in response to many different variables. Similarly, what is experienced as beneficial for one individual or team, may not be for another. It is therefore crucial to remember that each new step builds more data, trying new things and evaluating their success is always beneficial, even if that data demonstrates minimal or inconsistent impact, when you had expected something far greater.

The brief for Freedom from Torture’s Trauma-Informed Wellbeing Framework continues to be the development of a structure which is responsive to the needs of the people within the organisation. There will be therefore, a continual development of the framework, which is grown and nurtured by human experience and the context within which we work. 

5. Resourcing is key

Taking an approach which centres staff wellbeing across all aspects of an organisation may suggest that it is something which can be absorbed within existing structures. This is not an entirely accurate expectation and additional resourcing is essential to do this work well. Explicitly assigning leadership responsibilities at senior and cross organisational levels is crucial to ensuring continual progress and prioritisation, as is a commitment to sustainably resourcing the project. Adequately resourcing for specific tasks, such as internal communications, developing evaluation methodologies and opportunities to capture and to listen to the staff voice, enable ongoing development of the framework. Additionally, resourcing is a consideration required across the organisation: it is important to consider how the organisation can adequately resource services to enable staff to engage with the offer that is provided to them.

6. Encourage reflection – individually and collectively

The concept of wellbeing is multifaceted and can be understood in various ways, often depending on cultural, psychological, philosophical, and social perspectives. Therefore, how a person experiences both their own wellbeing in the workplace and their ability to access wellbeing programmes, strategies and support, are entirely individual. One size does not fit all.  Enabling a space for reflection on workplace wellbeing, both individually and collectively, provides people with the opportunity to identify their own needs and what feels important to them, including how and what they access. When there is a diverse programme of wellbeing initiatives and sessions available, and the threads of wellbeing are woven through an individual’s experience of their workplace, this has the potential to encourage self-reflection and ability to act without barriers.


By prioritising the wellbeing of both survivors and staff, organisations working within the migration and refugee sector can create a supportive and compassionate environment that aligns with their core values. A trauma-informed approach is not just a strategy—it is a commitment to humanising the workplace and ensuring that people working within the sector are themselves supported and empowered to continue their vital mission.

A trauma-informed approach to staff wellbeing recognises the importance of caring for those who are dedicated to caring for others. By implementing strategies that prioritise collaboration, self-care, and a supportive environment, organisations can foster resilience, prevent burnout, and enhance the overall effectiveness of their strategy. 

As the world continues to grapple with complex issues, nurturing the wellbeing of staff members is not only an investment in them, but also a commitment to the sustained impact of the organisation's work.