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The Pandemic Crisis Produces a Stressed Workforce

It’s a pretty safe bet that in the last two or three months all security directors have encountered circumstances that they have neither experienced nor anticipated. Organizational crisis management teams—many with security at their heart—are bring forced to adapt to rapidly changing conditions while trying to anticipate what obstacles may need to be addressed next. And they have been doing so for weeks on end with no real end in sight.

Enter ASIS International’s Managing COVID-19 Fear and Stress video series, featuring Temple University Director of Emergency Management Sarah J. Powell. The series defines stress in the context of organizational crisis, and gives security directors tools, tips, and ideas on how to spot stress, understand its root sources, and take actions to prevent or overcome the adverse consequences.

Today’s post examines a small section of the third video, “Common Pitfalls that Plague Teams During a Crisis.”

In an environment where security leaders are encountering new obstacles and having to constantly factor in new variables, they and their staffs are under increased pressure: How are we going to screen workers or visitors for potential illness? How do we decide when to begin to ease travel restrictions? If we stagger shifts how will that affect my security staffing and procedures? How do we mitigate the risk of potential workplace violence because people or tense or potential layoffs or other factors?

An entirely reasonable outcome would be for security staffs to have to-do lists that are way too long, with everything carrying an “urgent” label. When there is too much to do and not enough time, tools, or resources to do it, Powell calls this “task saturation.”

“It might start off well-calibrated,” she says. “Your team may be doing some critical tasks and they have the resources to meet that demand. But then over time, expectations go up. Maybe their performance is so fantastic that their supervisors start loading more and more on their plates expecting them to rise to the occasion. At some point they reach a moment of task saturation and stress and it’s just not sustainable anymore. They’re going to start making mistakes.”

Powell lists the following signs that someone is task saturated:

  • Shutdown—a person seizes up and stops performing all tasks.
  • Cognitive lock-in—a person sticks with their current direction even after it is abundantly clear that a new course is needed.
  • Compartmentalizing/Target fixation—a person focuses on one thing only and will not pivot to any other task no matter how necessary.
  • Channelizing—a person keeps themselves busy on tasks that are trivial or not mission critical.

At a minimum, security directors should be looking for these signs in their security teams as well as the crisis management team. These stressors are not unique to security, however, so security directors can add value to their organizations by sharing these insights with other managers—as well as some of the alleviation and mitigation techniques that Powell describes in the video series.

Want to learn more about employee wellness and stress management? Check out Security Management articles How to Address Shift Stress in Security Operations Centers and Under Pressure: Managing Team Wellness