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How to Address COVID Fatigue in Your Workforce

Perspectives on How to Manage Personally and Professionally Through A Pandemic

As the number of COVID-19 cases rise, entrenching us in the second wave globally, we’re seeing more people desperately searching for a sense of normality. But it’s critically important to recognize these behaviors and the reasons behind them to manage through this pandemic.

The truth is, “covid fatigue” becomes more real the closer to home it gets. If we recognize this idea of pandemic fatigue, we can easily see that people are exhausted. Exhausted from facing the challenges this pandemic has created. Zoom fatigue, an obsession with breaking news and burnout are common.

We all know the dangers and yet we are willing to take the risk. Why?

We rationalize the risk.

One of the key drivers of covid fatigue is the lingering fear that things will not get back to what we feel is normal. Behaviors are becoming increasingly more careless, and we are engaging in risky activities regardless of the recommendations from the medical and scientific communities. This is a result of wanting some semblance of sanity and familiarity in our routines. We justify our actions to make them “okay” in our minds. The bottom line is we are consumed by uncertainty, tired of being careful and tired of being scared. Telling yourself that this situation is temporary is a key starting point.

Another driver of risky behavior is the idea that the possible outcome, in this case, social connectedness, is worth the risk. Every time we chose to take the risk, we are answering two key questions about our perceived susceptibility and the perceived severity – how likely is it you will get sick and if you do, exactly how bad will it be?

Social norms are driving decisions to do what is familiar.

We’ve all heard someone say they don’t care if they get COVID-19; maybe you’ve said it yourself. You’d rather risk getting sick than continue to isolate from friends and family. In some cases, people go further than carelessness and are outright resistant to the experts' recommendations.

We all operate within shared social norms – the expectation that we behave a certain way in society. When we hear others downplay the dangers or see others not socially distancing or failing to wear a mask, it challenges our reality.

Wearing a mask and keeping a distance from others has proven to be effective at slowing the spread of COVID-19. However, witnessing behavior among our peers or within the community that goes against these recommendations creates an internal conflict where we must balance the desire to feel normal and follow suit with the need to be diligent and remain safe.

We can also see how different generations are impacted and respond differently, apparent in how willing each is to follow health guidelines. The idea that we are possibly facing our own mortality hits closer to home the older you are, and this idea plays out as we see younger generations more willing to take the risk.

We need to understand stress and talk openly about it.

Two kinds of stress combine to make COVID-19 a significantly difficult situation – intense stress and prolonged stress. We’re in the perfect storm. The pandemic has lingered on for more than eight months, and we have shifted from a sense of community bonding to the disillusionment phase, during which we witness more shows of anger and intense negativity.

As a coping mechanism, we need to start talking about our fears and our stress. It’s critical to note several facts about stress and mental health at work that may or may not still be true in your organization:

  • The stigma of mental health is an unspoken reality. Depending on the type of culture your organization fosters, employees may not feel safe disclosing personal matters. They may not feel that human resources, supervisors and co-workers can be trusted with this information.
  • Resources are not available leaving employees to struggle alone.
  • A staggering number of employees cite leaving a job because of mental illness. This is compounded by the fact that securing employment can become more challenging if a candidate discloses their mental health condition.
  • Employees with mental health conditions are perceived to be less competent to do their job.
  • Generations react differently and have different expectations for privacy. Baby boomers would never reveal a mental health condition and yet millennials are wide open to talking about anxiety and depression.

Employers must embrace mental health.

Employers must do more than make it acceptable to talk about stress. They must be proactive and ensure that employees are supported.

  1. Leadership has to champion a new culture of wellbeing and model the behavior they talk about.
  2. Resources must be accessible – increase the awareness of the available tools. Find out what your health plan offers and partner with your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to provide solutions. If you don’t have an EAP – get one.
  3. Train your management team to recognize the signs of stress and anxiety and how to reach out when they see someone in need.

Recognize that you can only control what you can control.

Here are some quick tips to share with your team that may help address covid fatigue in your workforce:

  • Stating the obvious here: wash your hands, wear a mask and social distance from others.
  • Recognize what triggers anger or fear throughout your day and try to avoid it.
  • Social media has made this situation even more public – try not to get caught up in threads that will cause stress.
  • Make a commitment to be safe.
  • Keep up with new information and be willing to change your routines to stay safe.
  • Practice makes perfect – make the new routines your new habits.

Random acts of kindness are more meaningful now than ever.

Stories of random acts of kindness should be headline news and would serve to lift spirits and remind people that there are things we do have control over – and little things we can do for others can be incredibly important right now.

For more practical solutions for employers that are actionable, timely and helpful in sharping workforce decision-making during this challenging time, visit OneDigital’s Coronavirus Advisory Hub.

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