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Counteracting COVID Fatigue Impacts in the Workplace

  • Published
  • 19 November 2020
  • Category
  • General

For months, people have struggled with the mental health toll linked to quarantines, layoffs, illness, death and now, bleak COVID-19 projections for the winter months.

Experts have coined a term for the weariness that continues to have economic, social and cultural implications: “COVID fatigue.”

What is COVID Fatigue?

COVID fatigue is a mental and emotional state associated with protracted pandemic-related stress. At the beginning of the pandemic, people felt motivated to do their part to stop the spread of the virus. But the good stress (eustress) that buoyed such attitudes – initially viewed as short-term – has transitioned to a period of ongoing distress.

Consequently, survival mechanisms are triggered. Nicole Yarmolkevich, MS, LPC describes them as fight, flight, free or faun (give in). While people are usually able to regain a sense of equilibrium in the aftermath of a stressful event, oscillation between the four reactions is causing extreme fatigue as the pandemic drags on.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates about half of the world’s population is experiencing COVID fatigue, leading to demotivation and dwindling vigilance in following safety precautions such as wearing a mask and practicing social distancing.

At the request of European member states, WHO has developed a framework of recommendations to guide national and subnational strategies. Key strategies include:

  • Understand people: collect and use evidence for targeted, tailored and effective policies, interventions and communication
  • Engage people as part of the solution
  • Help people reduce risk while doing things that make them happy
  • Acknowledge the hardship people experience, and the profound impact the pandemic has on their lives
Workplace Roadmap

This framework can provide a road map for employers who are trying to support their employees during this time. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that stress and burnout during the pandemic have significantly impacted the lives of workers, regardless of the type of industry they work in, or whether they do remote or on-site work.

In addition to continuing to emphasize the importance of compliance with prevention measures, here are recommendations employers can follow to help employees build resilience to COVID fatigue:

  1. Encourage employees to communicate with you, co-workers and supervisors. A Pew Research Center survey found 1 out of 3 Americans have experienced high levels of psychological distress due to social distancing practices. People with mental health disorders are particularly susceptible.
  2. Create an environment where stress impacts can be openly discussed. Conversations might include:
    • Understanding how the pandemic affects productivity at work
    • Exploring ways employees can stay in touch with friends and family
    • Recommending mental health resources such as employee assistance programs
    • Inviting employees to talk about aspects of their lives over which they lack control
  1. Suggest that your employees maintain a routine to help them feel more grounded, for example:
    • Maintaining a regular sleep schedule
    • Eating healthy meals at consistent times
    • Taking scheduled breaks to get some exercise or fresh air
    • Making a to-do list that can be reasonably accomplished
    • Checking in with colleagues, friends and family members
    • Writing in a journal or recording thoughts

4. Remind employees that their efforts to protect themselves and others matter, even if the results are not clearly apparent.

5. Promote healthy work habits to support well-being. This might include:

    • Defining tasks and translating them to individual-level goals
    • Encouraging “movement” breaks for physical and mental health
    • Directing employees to monitor for symptoms and stay home when ill

Studies show that prioritizing employee needs increases productivity and retention, and it fosters a sense of community, an especially important workplace characteristic during this time.

To learn more about COVID fatigue, refer to our Nov. 11 weekly webinar on Preventing and Managing COVID-19 in the Workplace. To register for WorkCare’s free webinar series, click here.

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