man with hands on temples, dealing with Employee stressors during Covid-19

Leading with Heart: Handling Employee stressors during Covid-19

By Josh Williams, Ph.D.

We are beginning to see early signs of forward progress with COVID-19. Certain drugs designed to improve recovery with this disease are showing promise. In the coming weeks and months, organizations will be opening up their operations beyond virtual connections. Even when it appears work is becoming closer to “normal,” it’s important to remember that many people won’t be. We are dealing with unprecedented levels of stress as people worry about loved ones, job security, and an uncertain future.

It is unrealistic to assume that employees will be “back to normal” as operations resume. Stress and fatigue take a powerful, often hidden, toll on people. Understanding these factors will make leaders more sensitive to employees’ concerns. It may also prevent injuries. 

Fatigue increases the probability of human error and corresponding injuries: 

Working 17 hours straight is equivalent to being legally drunk. 

There’s a 23% higher rate of injury for employees working more than 60 hours a week. 

There’s a 37% higher rate of injury for employees working more than 12 hours on a given day. 

There’s a 61% higher rate of injury for those working overtime.

There’s a 265% greater chance of injury for employees getting less than 5 hours of sleep compared to those getting 7 hours or more. 

In the best of times, 43% of employees report being sleep deprived. High levels of stress are likely disrupting employees’ sleep patterns even more right now. Many people are working without being fully present because they are simply exhausted. Leaders should check in regularly with employees and properly set up work schedules to help mitigate the effects of fatigue.

Leaders also need to be more aware of employees’ stress levels. 

Neuroscience shows that increased stress leads to the release of cortisol and the inhibition of dopamine. 

This results in a host of cognitive problems including decreased brain volume in adults. 

Stress causes impaired decision-making, judgment, attention, and memory along with increased risk-taking behavior. 

The American Psychological Association estimates that stress is associated with 60%-80% of workplace incidents. 

Employees report less stress when their leaders promote interactive discussions, focus on building relationships, and use more positive means for motivation. 

During this time of transition, leaders need to be more aware that stress and fatigue are real issues to manage. Work may be ramping up to “normal” levels, but people may not be. Leaders need to check in regularly with employees to make sure they’re doing okay. This will help them adapt more quickly to the changing work landscape. It may also help prevent them from getting seriously injured on the job. 

At Propulo, our focus has always been on Safety Culture and Operational Excellence.


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