Issue Fatigue – Corporate Crisis Stress

Issue fatigue is another hot topic. The actions of the political extremes are increasingly alienating the majority between them. The news media and social media cannot constrain their obsessive coverage. Millions of bots are exacerbating it. People are exhausted! Concurrently, the core groups in the extremes are enthusiastically whipping up hateful sentiment hoping to gain the advantage. The frightening corporate equivalent of issue fatigue contributes greatly to corporate crisis stress. It can decimate your best plans to defend your company.

This political narrative helps illustrate the dynamics in a corporate crisis, but don’t take the comparison too far. Both have leaders and operatives from opposing camps and likely many camps. Both have experienced professionals who strongly believe it their point of view. (If your business doesn’t have professional support or loyal employees, you have even bigger problems.) However, unlike politics, a business loses if it alienates its customers, suppliers, investors or myriad of other stakeholders.

Issue Fatigue

A sustained crisis can wear down the people your company needs most, your leaders and responders. Your opponents may have true believers and potentially an endless stream of new advocates and investigators against you, but there’s a limit to how much your people can process and handle. Unlike opposition that could come from any direction and doesn’t always have to be reliable, a company’s response must be consistent and accurate. With all this stress and issue fatigue, your people may succumb to corporate crisis stress. So, what do you do?

Presidential stress

Issue fatigue and crisis stress take their toll on everyone. You can see this in the way virtually every President of the United States has noticeably aged during the term in office. They simply cannot fully compartmentalize and control the enormous weight of responsibility and the frequent barrage of one crisis after another. The combination of mental, emotional and physical stresses will wear anyone down, as well as threaten performance.

Crisis Responders

Some people seem to excel and even thrive in adverse, stressful circumstances. I used to stoically joke that it was the adrenaline. That wasn’t completely accurate, but challenging situations did allow me to use quick wits, a wealth of experience and total determination to solve major problems. However, over the years I’ve learned the wisdom of objectively and dispassionately considering what to do in a crisis. Often, it can provide better results than just bluster and around the clock enthusiasm.

Of course, members of the team need to show that managing the crisis is their top priority and they’ll do whatever it takes. It’s important to demonstrate your commitment, but passion can also obscure other important information. Being solely in the moment leads to limited thinking and significant crisis stress. For a brief time, emergency responders can handle the stress of a crisis. However, even basic issues such as sleep deprivation, poor diet and lack of exercise soon take a toll.

15 Corporate Crisis Stress Magnifiers

Some of the actions that may contribute to corporate crisis stress are:

  1. You learn about the crisis and realize that the business, people, financials and reputation are at risk.
  2. The need to drop or cancel every activity that had been most important to you, just moments before.
  3. You mobilize people and resources to respond. This usually means yanking them away from what was important to them.
  4. Grab plans, people and supplies and usually go to a new location.
  5. You do your best to let family, friends, staff, management and stakeholders know what you can when you can. However, there are severe restrictions and managing the crisis is the priority.
  6. You start getting inquiries, unsolicited advice and pressure from dozens of internal and external sources. This includes the media, government officials and even the neighbor you’ve been ignoring.
  7. To maintain control, you may keep information close only to find that reporters are airing reports from uninformed sources.
  8. Reporters are entering secure areas. They are interviewing untrained employees.
  9. You spar with local, state and federal officials to see who controls your crisis at your facility.
  10. You haven’t had a crisis drill for 18 months. The plan hasn’t been updated since the downsizing. Several key responsibilities are missing.
  11. The conference room hasn’t been refreshed in years. Computer equipment is outdated. Office supplies, food, refreshments and toilet paper supplies are inadequate.
  12. You have people working overnight, through the weekend and from out of town. There aren’t rooms or showers available for them.
  13. There’s always something that requires your attention, so you haven’t slept more than 15 minutes straight for days.
  14. The board wants hourly updates, twice daily reports and is second-guessing your actions.
  15. Your family needs you at the hospital.
Woman show effects of corporate crisis stress and issue fatigue

Corporate Crisis Stress

More Stress

The list can go on and on, but this should give you a feel for the circumstances and pressures many emergency response and crisis communications managers encounter in one crisis after another. Imagine combining these with issue fatigue, sustained stress and separation from stabilizing influences such as family, friends and routines. There is a real risk that performance and health will suffer. The trick is handling corporate crisis stress in a way that doesn’t exacerbate mistakes.

Of course, no one is suggesting that we don’t handle a crisis. It requires an effective response. You want to have your best people handling it. Otherwise, the damage may be even greater. We just want to prepare and respond in a way that ensures the best results for the business and the least harm to people and the environment. In fact, if done right, it might be self-actualizing for the participants.

3 Ways to Reduce Issue Fatigue and Corporate Crisis Stress

Here are three things you can do to reduce corporate crisis stress. Importantly, they also significantly increase your prospects for successfully resolving the crisis.

  1. The best way to reduce crisis stress and improve performance is through planning and training before the crisis occurs. This planning will decide who is responsible, ensures you have the people and resources you will need, and clearly defines a chain of command. Through exercises, drills and training, the plans are tested. Also, people become proficient in their roles and you make the adjustments needed to improve performance. This is a good time to confirm logistical support and preapprove statements and strategies. Otherwise, they will cause delays during a crisis. The forethought and confidence you gain will dramatically reduce corporate crisis stress.
  2. Stay focused on the problem and not on personal considerations. Recognize that crises often sew political discord. Try to steer clear of political jockeying. At the same time, be open to good ideas and use your knowledge and common sense to advance the best solutions.  Ultimately, use your knowledge and training to be professionally deliberate.
  3. Use experienced consultants to give you an outside perspective and the benefit of their knowledge from other crisis situations. Their slight bit of detachment from the crisis may give you the perspective and assistance your internally focused team can miss. Consultants allow you to bounce ideas off an expert in real time. Also, many employees fear the repercussions from a crisis and that clouds their judgment. Experts don’t have the same concern.

Words to Remember

A career international Crisis Manager once recounted the words his first boss told him.  “Don’t get stressed over politics or people.  Assume you’re going to be fired regardless of how things turn out.  Be the best professionally and always do the right thing.  You can defend doing the right thing forever into the future but not so lapses in common sense or professionalism.”

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