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Leadership During Crisis & Trauma Such as the COVID-19 Virus

March 22, 2020

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While strategic, business and legal factors are very important in planning for any crisis, it is essential not to overlook the human factors. Moreover, though human factors (micro- and macro-ergonomics) are likely to be part of any investigation of causality, human factors may often be missing from the business continuity strategy. This could be natural disaster such as flood or earthquake, global pandemics/epidemics such as the COVID-19 Virus and the then-novel H1N1 strain of influenza.  

We need to consider the human psychological factors that may have an impact before, during and after a crisis or traumatic event.

Before

It is important to consider people before a crisis happens. This can involve training crisis response teams and other leaders in an understanding of the impact of trauma. It also includes appropriate recruitment and selection of business continuity teams and emergency responders, not just based on perceived technical competency but also psychological resilience.

Resilience is an important concept when considering human factors in crisis situations.  In simple terms, it is the ability to bounce back from negative events by using positive emotions to cope. It also appears that whether someone conceptualises an event as traumatic, or as an opportunity to learn and grow has a direct impact on how they will cope with any given situation.

During

People react differently to stressful situations. Therefore, someone who has been extensively trained in say hitting an emergency button when being robbed may forget to do so during a robbery or someone may revert to their mother tongue language when highly stressed.

Experienced staff not directly involved in a crisis may find themselves being swamped with unfamiliar emotions (particularly when there is a loss of life involved). Well-rehearsed contingency plans can easily be forgotten during a real crisis. During a critical incident, people can make poor decisions – whether it is a Leader communicating insensitively or an employee acting out in a way that can appear ‘strange’ to those around them.

What leaders do in the first minutes and hours after an incident can determine how quickly the organisation recovers both financially and emotionally. However, these leaders need to understand the emotional impact on themselves and others.

After

Not everyone copes with a crisis or traumatic event in the same way. Some people experience acute distress from which they are unable to recover. Some people seem to recover quickly but then begin to experience unexpected mental health problems. However, most people manage the temporary upheaval after a crisis or traumatic event remarkably well.

It is important to monitor all staff involved, not just those directly involved in the crisis. The impact of an individual can happen weeks, months or even years later. For some individuals, there can even be a cumulative effect where the exposure to multiple traumatic events is associated with high levels of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  

You should have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) in place, and your EAP Provider can also assist with critical incident responses.  If you do not have an EAP, giving all employees access to a licensed mental health professional, such as a counsellor or psychologist, can be essential.

By Tony Buon – Tony is a very experienced Business Psychologist and a Senior Consultant to EuroMaTech.  He has worked with many major crisis and traumatic events worldwide. 

Check out our courses for 2020 at www.euromatech.com/training-plan-2020.

 

ABOUT EUROMATECH

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