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Groundhog Day Reminders to Uplift COVID-Weary Employees

  • Published
  • 2 February 2021
  • Category
  • General

By Karen O’Hara

Feb. 2 is Groundhog Day – midpoint between winter solstice in December and the spring equinox in March.

As legend has it, if the groundhog sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter. If there is no shadow, then spring will come early. While other groundhogs poke their heads out of burrows to make their forecast, Phil in Punxsutawney, PA, is the most well-known.

Phil made a cameo appearance in the 1993 movie, Groundhog Day, a perennial favorite starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell. Murray plays Phil, a sarcastic, self-absorbed TV weather man who repeats the same day until he finally figures out how to win the heart of Rita, who is producing the live broadcast from Punxsutawney.

Phil learns that empathy, kindness, and humility are attributes worth cultivating. Rita, a more evolved soul, embodies these qualities.

We are living our own personal versions of Groundhog Day during the COVID era. Consider this: Popular media writers started using Groundhog Day as an analogy for the repetitive lifecycle we are experiencing during the pandemic when we were just a few weeks into this endurance test.

I am reminded of a T-shirt I bought in Cambodia. It says, “Same Same But Different,” a popular expression in Southeast Asia. I should dig it out of my T-shirt drawer.

The Phil and Rita in Us

If you are an employer, you have likely noticed some employees are finding it hard to keep their spirits up.,

You may overhear colleagues talking about having difficulty concentrating, being forgetful, making mistakes, or feeling lethargic and depressed. A co-worker told me he has to think about what day it is because all the days seem to blend together. Another said she worries about how well her children are coping without social interaction and activities necessary for their physical and mental development.

Repetition is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s important for employees to stick with healthy habits that support productivity and bring them job satisfaction. When repetitive behaviors like taking a daily walk, playing music, helping with homework or pursing a hobby become too hard to maintain, that’s a sign people are at risk  of an unhealthy downward spiral.

 What Can You Do?

Here are some suggestions to help boost positivity in your workplace while still acknowledging the serious nature of the pandemic and its associated losses:

  1. Encourage employees to follow a consistent sleep pattern. Fatigue depletes emotional resiliency and mental clarity, and it contributes to accidents and injuries. Adults should get an average of seven to nine hours of uninterrupted, quality sleep a day.
  2. Promote exercise and good nutrition. Check with employees to make sure they are taking their meal breaks. A healthy diet provides the energy they need to complete their work, have a more optimistic outlook and avoid energy slumps. Remind those who sit at a desk all day to get up and walk around when it’s not essential for them to be in front of a computer screen. Outdoor time is also recommended when the weather is conducive.
  3. Make space for appropriate humor. Have a contest with a fun theme or sponsor a Zoom social hour. Start team meetings with a question such as: “What is the best thing that happened to you in the past week?” When every day seems like a slog, a light-hearted approach has a healing effect. Laughter is therapeutic.
  4. Refer to experts when you see a need. Depression and anxiety case rates have been climbing since the start of the pandemic. If your company has an employee assistance program or coverage for counseling, make sure employees are aware of this benefit.
  5. Be a mentor; take a protégé under your wing, even if your company does not have a formal mentorship program. If you are a young professional, find an experienced colleague who can help you develop your talents. Both parties, and your company, will grow from this type of supportive relationship.
  6. Feature employees in an internal company newsletter or intranet engagement platform. Invite them to talk about what they do to beat the blahs. This is especially important for people who are telecommuting and feel disconnected from the “mother ship.”
  7. Be adaptable. Simply because you have always done something a certain way at your company doesn’t mean it can’t or shouldn’t be changed. Take time to evaluate policies and protocols. Revise or eliminate work practices that don’t seem relevant to the new normal. From a personal perspective, be willing to modify the way you relate to others.
  8. Sponsor a community volunteer program and invite employees to participate. Many studies show that volunteering time to a meaningful cause increases happiness and improves overall well-being. Good role models often find themselves while in the service of others.
I adopted

There are lots of ways to get out of a rut. On the eve of Groundhog Day, I adopted a cat from the local animal shelter. I submitted an adoption request in November but never got a call for a match. I told myself the right cat would come along if I was just patient. I had already decided I would name my kitty Colleen if I got a female. Finally, I got a call. Out of 900 socially distant applicants in search of companionship, the cat adoption volunteer recognized my name. It was Colleen, a childhood friend who later helped me do my taxes.

Serendipity has always been one of my favorite words.

Phil saw his shadow today. But regardless of the forecast, we know spring will arrive, hopefully bearing the same promise it did in the movie.

Karen O’Hara is WorkCare’s director of marketing and communications.

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