CHAPTER 13Acute Stress at Work

Rolf J. Kleber

Utrecht University, The Netherlands


Peter G. van der Velden

Institute for Psychotrauma, The Netherlands


A bank employee becomes a victim of a hold-up. A large company is suddenly confronted with the suicide of one of its workers. A moment of inattentiveness and suddenly a school teacher has to deal with a serious accident affecting a pupil. Fire-fighters discover in a burned house the corpse of one of their colleagues. These are all forms of acute stress in work situations. Unsuspectedly, an employee has to cope with an overwhelming experience at work which he or she can hardly handle.

The consequences of acute stress at work can be serious and sometimes long lasting for those involved. One can discern direct emotional reactions, like dismay, shock and disbelief. These are followed by reactions like fear, anger, depression and tiredness. The employee concerned will be angry for some time because such an experience happened to him or her, or will fear that it might happen again. Sometimes victims blame themselves for not having done enough. All of these reactions influence work performance and functioning at home. The employee finds it difficult to concentrate, suffers from forgetfulness and has difficulties in communicating with others. After some time tensions at work may develop, which become apparent through deterioration of work performance, irritations, fatigue, burnout and absenteeism.

The interest of ...

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