The common stressors experienced by air traffic controllers may be attributed to both the nature of operations of air traffic control and the organizational structure under which they operate. Under the operational aspect, stress may be due to the amount of traffic they handle, time deficit, operational procedures which are limited and need to be adapted and emergency situations they regularly handle. Organizational stressors likely to be experienced by traffic controllers may include with shift schedules under which they work, unfavorable working conditions, the lack of control over work and conflicts in their role.
The major concerns for air traffic controllers are safety and management of the flow of aircraft into and out of the airport airspace. They guide pilots during takeoff and landing, and monitor aircraft as they navigate through the skies. Given the amount of planes in the sky at any given time, the speed the planes are travelling at and that the planes are moving at different altitudes, the work of air traffic controllers is complex. Further, their work is stressful given that lives are at stake.
The operational procedures may also contribute to them experiencing stress. Air traffic controllers have to be aware of these procedures which are often limited and need to be adapted to quickly. For instance, storm warning systems appear on their radar with little or no notice. Air traffic controllers have to quickly take note of this and notify planes flying along these routes in order to make the pilots of these planes aware of the situation they’ll face and advise them on how to act accordingly.
Air traffic controllers regularly handle emergency situations. These critical aviation incidences may include air accidents that may result in loss of life or serious injury, near collisions, loss of control and crash landing. These incidences make air traffic controllers to experience mental reactions such as anger, grief, anxiety and sense of guilt and physical reactions such as hypertension, headache, sweating and insomnia which may not only affect ones performance but can also give rise to long-term post-traumatic disorders.
Organizational aspect such as shift scheduling may also cause employees to experience stress. The adverse effects of working during different shifts include disruption in physiological and biological processes, the impairment of physical health and one’s psychological wellbeing, problems with alertness, performance and interference with one’s social and domestic life. Shiftwork also causes sleep disruption. One may experience insomnia at home and sleepiness at work and this can negatively affect ones productivity. Low productivity and quality of life lead to people experiencing stress both at work and at home.
Staff shortages also contribute to stress. The number of planes in the sky is constantly increasing while there’s no corresponding increase in the number of air traffic controllers. The shortage leads to air traffic controllers working longer shifts which leads them experiencing fatigue. Fatigue stretches the controller’s decision-making capacity to the maximum which in turn leads to an increase in operational errors. Operational errors may have fatal consequences.
Role conflicts lead to demand strain, a result of demands to fulfill multiple roles simultaneously amid excessive psychological demands. Due to constant shifting and demand, air traffic controllers have less time to get used to what is required of them in the different departments they are staffed. This may lead to them experiencing mental strain.