A Guide for Managers: Covid-19 – A Critical Incident and Its Ongoing Impact

Covid-19: A Critical Incident?

A critical incident refers to a sudden, unexpected occurrence at work that puts a person or person’s safety at risk. The incident is outside the range of day-to-day operations, and has the potential to lead to injury or death if left unattended.

Covid-19 certainly meets the criteria of a critical incident, both in terms of its disruption to businesses and to its potential for injury or death if ignore. Usually a critical incident is contained at work, and is of short duration. Covid-19 has not only disrupted and impacted our work lives, it permeates our personal lives as well. There is no reprieve from this critical incident. Covid-19’s ongoing nature presents unusual challenges for the employer and employee alike.

The ongoing nature to Covid-19 means we need different strategies for managing the ongoing emotional impact of Covid-19. Rather than looking back at the incident, we must look forward and through the current threat. This is unchartered territory for most of us.

Identifying Covid-19 as a critical incident allows us to bring our knowledge and skills of critical incidents to the present situation to ensure that we not only look after employees’ physical safety, but emotional safety as well.

Covid-19: The Ongoing Impact

When a critical incident occurs in the workplace, management rushes in to ensure everyone is safe. Employers everywhere have responded quickly to the threat of Covid-19 and have changed work practices to ensure everyone’s safety. As with any critical incident, the first priority is to ensure the physical safety of everyone in the workplace. The next step is to assess and promote emotional safety.

The unexpected, life threatening nature of a critical incident impacts everyone differently based on degree of impact but also pre-existing stressors and personal coping styles. Common reactions, which can vary in degree of severity include irritability, sadness, anger, poor concentration, difficulty sleeping, feeling numb, or like you could cry at the slightest provocation. These reactions are normal and expected and tend to decrease after a few days or a couple of weeks.

Humans can be remarkably adaptable, and despite Covid-19’s ongoing impact, people will find themselves adjusting to the “new normal.” Their emotional state may return to normal. However, Covid-19 is fluid, and may get better, then worse periodically. Expect emotions to ebb and flow just as the coronavirus may ebb and flow.

Jenny DeReis, MC Psych, CCC

Walmsley EFAP