Dealing with COVID fatigue in the workplace

Fact or fiction? 2020 has been the longest five years ever.

Fact: Technically, it’s been less than a year. And it’s been exhausting. COVID-fatigue is a real thing.

More than just being tired of trying to live and work during a pandemic, COVID-fatigue also describes our overwhelming desire to get back to normal — to live our normal day-to-day lives, enjoy our normal day-to-day activities, and go to work and do our normal day-to-day jobs.

Since the pandemic was declared in March, many people in Canada have returned to their workplaces, while others continue to work remotely. In either case, we’ve had to adjust to new routines and new ways of doing things – be it attending client meetings via Zoom or masking up in the office.

With no end to the pandemic forecast anytime soon and with many regions now dealing with a second wave of COVID cases, it’s no surprise people are finding it difficult to stay vigilant – and even harder to stay optimistic.

Living with long-term uncertainty is not easy, but it’s what we’ve been dealt, at least until there’s a vaccine for COVID-19. Since we don’t know when that will be, there are actions employers can take now to help their employees get through some strange and disconcerting times.

Acknowledge it’s not business as usual.

Did you know the average workday is 48.5 minutes longer than it was before the pandemic, and meetings have gone up by nearly 13 per cent? This, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, is due in a large part to more employees working from home, where the line between work and home is blurred. Some of the other downsides remote working employees are dealing with include more difficulty working collaboratively, less motivation to tackle projects and a rise in drinking on the job as people try to manage the stress.

It’s not always a picnic for those going into the workplace, either. Health restrictions may hinder any meaningful interaction between coworkers. And many feel additional stress from having to be around other people who may or may not be taking proper precautions against the virus.

Fixing COVID may be out of your wheelhouse, but you can ease your employees’ burden by shedding light on their struggles, listening to their concerns and sharing your own. You might even be able to address some of their worries with simple actions, like reducing the number of meetings they need to attend, being flexible when it comes to whether or not an employee needs to physically come into the office or what hours they must work, and offering access to mental health and emotional supports when necessary.

Be Positive.

That’s “state-of-mind” positive, of course, not COVID positive. Positivity is a stronger motivator than negativity, so reframe the rules at work by giving positive reasons for doing or not doing things.

For example, instead of telling staff they can’t sit in the common area at lunch time, suggest other options, like taking a walk outside for exercise. You could even organize a friendly competition to see who can log the most steps in a week. Or encourage staff to use the time to reach out to someone; maybe phone or FaceTime an elderly relative, who would likely appreciate the social interaction.

Be open and transparent.

In the midst of so much uncertainty and factors out of our control, we all appreciate some clarity. Remain upfront about what your organization is doing to keep everyone healthy. Get their input on how to make the workplace safe and comfortable and on what changes may be ahead in the coming weeks and months. Continue checking in with staff, one-on-one and as a group (maybe virtually).

We don’t know when life and work will get back to normal, but we do know this: change and uncertainty – even when it’s constant – is easier when everyone works together.


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