Addressing pandemic fatigue in the workplace

Workplace Organization
February 10, 2021

Remember when we all thought this health crisis would be over if everyone just isolated for 14 days? Reflecting upon our first pandemic anniversary, it feels as though this year has dragged on more than any other. If you had told us that social distancing, mask-wearing, and quarantining would become the new normal, we would have looked at you like you had two heads. Although we all know listening to public health regulations means we can get back to pre-covid life sooner rather than later, we’re all getting a bit fed up. 

Have you found yourself more anxious, depressed, or stressed lately? Have simple, everyday to-do lists transformed into seemingly impossible tasks? It’s called pandemic fatigue - it’s a real thing, and you’re not alone. 48% of Canadians report being fed up with following public health restrictions brought on by the pandemic, while 9/10 still say they’re doing their best to stay safe. We understand the importance of regulations, but they’re not without their consequences - which, to no surprise, have wreaked havoc on our mental health. In fact, 75% of employees in the United States have reported burnout symptoms since lockdown. 

The World Health Organization defines the phenomenon of pandemic fatigue as, “ ... demotivation to follow recommended protective behaviours, emerging gradually over time and affected by several emotions, experiences and perception.” Pandemic fatigue is an anticipated and normal response to such a prolonged public health crisis. The initial lockdown days of a perceived cheeky vacation, filled with banana bread and fancy whipped coffee, are long gone. 

Related Article: Overcoming remote employee burnout

Common symptoms of pandemic fatigue include : 

  • Increased irritability and exhaustion
  • Inability to focus or concentrate for extended periods, feeling overwhelmed easily 
  • Feelings of depression and feeling lost
  • Drop in communications with friends and family, or anyone outside your bubble 

Pandemic fatigue is hard enough to battle on a personal level, let alone on that of an organization. The lines that have traditionally divided our personal and professional lives - like commutes into a physical office - are almost nonexistent. In the workplace, pandemic fatigue can show itself in absenteeism, productivity, employee morale, and culture. And although your employees may say they’re doing just fine, it’s always better to proactivity address pandemic fatigue than wait until someone reaches out for help. 

Here are a few strategies to help stay on top of pandemic fatigue, and mitigate possible consequences of team members growing tired of this prolonged lockdown;

Establish a routine and stick with it 

I hate setting my morning alarm for 7:00 am as much as the next person, but following a schedule is paramount for keeping the pandemic fatigue ‘scaries’ away. Our bodies actually prefer routine and thrive when we prioritize waking up and falling asleep at set times. When we lack routine or any sort of schedule, we quickly lose track of time - and all of a sudden a whole day is over (I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s found themselves still wearing pyjamas by the end of the workday...right?). Everyone feels better about themselves when they’re productive - whether that’s committing to waking up early, getting in a workout during lunch, or going for a socially distant walk with a friend in the evening. Some days can be harder than others, but sticking to a routine (one that ideally involves changing out of your pyjamas) will prove beneficial. 

Related Article: Do your remote employees feel looked after?

Adopt stress relief practices 

One of the worst and most widespread side effects of this pandemic has been lingering stress and anxiety. Just because this sentiment may be a collective experience, however, doesn’t invalidate those feelings. We’re all stressed for one reason or another, and adding a pandemic to the mix - well, who wouldn’t be overwhelmed? There are a variety of techniques you can try - such as deep breathing, meditation, and mindfulness. If you’re a leader, consider encouraging employees to have a designated break in the day allocated solely for addressing stress. Carving out time for team members to recenter and refocus their energy means improving employee wellbeing while simultaneously destressing from our pandemic reality. 

Keep your eyes open for signs of burnout and exhaustion

Leaders should always be vigilant for symptoms of employee burnout, but especially so during a worldwide health crisis. While some like to glamorize the idea of constantly “hustling”, working and improving, burnout is not an achievement to be ogled. Exhaustion can happen to anyone in your organization, and working through a pandemic makes everyone particularly susceptible.  Educate yourself and your team on the signs associated with burnout. While it can be hard to prevent and identify burnout, with many of us now working remotely, your best bet is to be knowledgeable and proactive. If team members seem disengaged, distracted, or unable to focus, it might be time to check-in. 

Workplace culture and employee morale can be amongst the first casualties if pandemic fatigue strikes your team. Discover how peer recognition can give your employee engagement strategy that extra boost - request a demo with Qarrot!

Jamie Doyle