What Happened to You?

Many of us have had jobs where we felt, correctly or not, unfairly treated. Whether this feeling comes from being measured on mistakes rather than successes, experiencing unhealthy conflict with colleagues, earning less than we deserve, or something else, it is overwhelmingly common and rarely leaves us feeling safe or supported. This, in turn, can impact our job satisfaction and ultimately job performance, often in ways that are hard to detect.

The Sanctuary Model, originally developed in the early 1980s by workers in an inpatient adult hospital unit, aims to rectify many of these common organizational ailments by emphasizing support of all moving parts in a complex system. It combines trauma-informed care with a non-hierarchical approach. It recognizes the parallels between the way individuals and systems operate. It emphasizes open communication, emotional intelligence, and nonviolence, among other core commitments. And because it defines trauma broadly – as “an experience in which a person’s internal resources are not adequate to cope with external stressors”* – its central operating question is not, “What’s wrong with you?” but rather “What happened to you?”

While many of these expressions may sound like overused buzzwords lacking in substance, they form the cornerstone of an organizational model that, when implemented mindfully, can improve a workplace’s overall functionality.

So what does this look like in practice? A supervisor emphasizing an individual’s strengths over her mistakes. Colleagues openly admitting feelings of overwhelm or regret and having these emotions validated rather than ignored, or worse, punished. An organizational decision being delayed until input is gathered from all employees.

In practice the Sanctuary Model does not solve every workplace problem, nor does it set out to. But it does provide a blueprint for a system in which all players can feel respected, heard, and supported. When all stakeholders feel they have a voice and a presence in a cause greater than themselves, it is not unusual to see greater employee retention, happier clients, and more sustained organizational success.

*For more information on how the Sanctuary Model works, visit Sanctuary’s home page at http://www.thesanctuaryinstitute.org/about-us/the-sanctuary-model.

This article is the author’s personal interpretation of how Sanctuary operates in the workplace and in no way represents an official or authorized statement.

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