Jim was visibly upset when he sat down for our coaching session. He told me that, the previous day, one of his staff had yelled at him during a meeting with his team members.
He, too, lost his cool when the staff member “freaked out at him,” but he eventually walked away. This wasn’t the first time this person had verbally abused him and Jim hadn’t slept all night.
My friend John Kason coined the phrase ‘business traumatic stress disorder’ (BTSD) to describe the side effects often associated with the chronic stress of owning or running a business or organization.
PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder occurs if you have experienced a traumatic event where you or someone you observed has been exposed to violence. BTSD has similar symptoms but the causes are likely much different.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, people with PTSD might experience a range of symptoms across four categories:
Intrusive symptoms related to the event, such as nightmares, flashbacks, or unwanted thoughts about the trauma.
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Many business owners have been traumatized by bankers, creditors, suppliers and landlords, who have put considerable pressure on them when the business has been in financial difficulties.
Like Jim, they may also have been subject to abuse from staff, partners or customers.
Clients have told me that they wake up in sweats and have unwanted thoughts about these conversations. Some wake up from nightmares, while others can’t get to sleep because they’re so stressed.
Avoiding reminders: this is when people have behaviours designed to avoid people, places or situations that are reminders of an event.
If you’ve ever dealt with shoplifters, crooks and irrational staff members, compounded with demanding customers and the everyday problems of a business, you may start to have similar symptoms of avoidance reminders.
Chances are you’re going to start avoiding the people, places and things that remind you of your overwhelming business difficulties. In some cases, you may be reluctant to even go to work.
Negative thoughts and feelings may include ongoing and distorted beliefs about oneself or others (e.g., “I am bad” or “No one can be trusted”); constant fear, horror, anger, guilt or shame.
Are you feeling ashamed because you aren’t as successful as you think you should be?
There’s often a deep sense of shame among struggling business leaders about their inability to do what they need to do to pay their bills or keep their organization floating.
Leaders often feel guilt about laying off employees, anger at themselves for getting into this business in the first place, and ongoing fear and anxiety about the future. You’re not alone if you feel this way.
Arousal and reactive symptoms may include being irritable and having angry outbursts, behaving recklessly or self-destructively, being easily startled, or having problems concentrating or sleeping.
Having owned businesses for more than 35 years, my staff, partners and family can attest to the fact that there have been many times when I’ve been irritable, had angry outbursts, couldn’t concentrate and had trouble sleeping. These symptoms could be considered normal for business owners who have challenging or dysfunctional businesses for any period.
It’s unlikely that a medical professional will understand clearly the root causes of BTSD. But it’s important to get help if you or someone you know is exhibiting symptoms. In some cases, this might include counselling or medical intervention.
However, it will most likely require the support of a mentor or business coach who has experience in dealing with business challenges and turning around an operation.
Without an intervention to solve the problems of the business and support the leader, the BTSD conditions will continue to spiral.
Dave Fuller, MBA, is an award-winning business coach and a partner in the firm Pivotleader Inc. For interview requests, click here.
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