Overcoming the Hurdles of “Pandemic Fatigue”

Overcoming the Hurdles of “Pandemic Fatigue”

Published 8th October 2020
Dr Low Kiang Wei

Medical Director, International SOS

Published 8th October 2020

It has been more than six months since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and in many ways, it feels like we have made it through the worst stage yet.

Though life has not returned to normal, we are making adjustments to our daily routines to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe through working in split shifts, limiting social gatherings to just five people, and finding new ways to unwind with family and friends. However, there are others who are finding this second half of the pandemic much harder and may be experiencing what some are calling “pandemic fatigue”.

Many might attest to experiencing uncertainty of how long the pandemic will last, struggles with staying resilient, weariness to continue safe distancing efforts and deeper negative moods than during the Circuit Breaker. These struggles can be considered “pandemic fatigue”, and while it may not be an official medical condition, it can take a toll on our mental health, impact job performance and productivity and overall hinder business resilience for an organisation.

The importance of addressing “pandemic fatigue”

In late March, Qualtrics, SAP and Mind Share Partners conducted a study on how the pandemic was affecting mental health, and surveyed more than 2,000 global employees. 42% of respondents expressed a decline in mental health since the outbreak began.

Interestingly, employees who worked from home for more than two weeks were 50% more likely to say that their mental health has declined due to “more chronic sadness” and “more fatigue”.

Employees across all levels of the organisation have not been spared, with 40.5% of C-level executives and 40.1% of managers reporting a decline in mental health as well.

These worrying figures were found at the start of the pandemic, and we can only imagine that they have been exacerbated by the economic fallout, with businesses announcing pay cuts and retrenchments. As the economic impact of the pandemic continues to unfold, business leaders and employees need to adopt a shared responsibility to address these challenges and ensure their workforce stays flexible, adaptable and capable of weathering this second half of the pandemic and beyond.

Simple steps for individuals to ease pandemic fatigue

If you are feeling the effects of the long, drawn-out crisis, there are a few things that you can do:

1. Accepting negative emotions

Being honest about pent-up emotions like anxiety and uncertainty is a cathartic gateway for employees to find ways to address them effectively.

2. Creating new goals

Whether it’s an exercise goal, or planning small weekly social gatherings, setting these personal goals that are achievable and enjoyable will give a sense of accomplishment.

3. Conserving their emotional resources

Whenever necessary, employees should take time out from work to prioritise self-care. They can take their annual leave, even if it is just to relax at home or spend time with loved ones.

4. Being kind to themselves

Employees should recognise that it is okay to have both good and bad days. Instead of focusing on the negatives, they can acknowledge and celebrate their achievements.

5. Asking for help 

Almost everyone has experienced some levels of discomfort during this period, so employees don’t have to be afraid to seek support from mental health professionals in the organisation or elsewhere, whenever needed.

Easing the challenges of “pandemic fatigue” and building workforce resilience

Recognising that employees are the cornerstone of any business’ success, it is vital to build a holistic workforce resilience programme where employees feel like their health, safety and wellbeing are a key priority.

It is not enough for individuals to try and ease the mental health impacts of the pandemic alone. When employees spend most of their hours at work, what businesses do to address this issue is crucial to improving their health and wellbeing.

International SOS has been working closely with clients over the past six months to provide tailored assistance and advice for their workforce to handle the stressors and challenges that come their way.

A few key ways that organisations can help build workforce resilience

1. Effective and Empathetic Communication

A key pillar of our approach is to implement a sustainable support structure for all employees, via effective and empathetic communication channels. Regular and succinct situation updates, paired with regular check-ins with employees, go a long way in ensuring managers are aware of any struggles that employees might be facing, reducing feelings of uncertainty and anxiety, and ensuring that employees are well-equipped to address any existing or emerging challenges at the workplace.

To this end, International SOS has developed a range of tools like our COVID-19 website, which is open to the public, and our Assistance App, which provides our clients with the latest medical and security situational updates in each country and 24/7 assistance. We have also organised educational webinars, led by our medical directors, to educate our clients and their employees on dealing with the ever-evolving nature of this pandemic.

We also had a leading bank in Singapore engage us to build a proactive outreach programme for their international assignees, who were based overseas and might be feeling more vulnerable being away from home during this difficult period. 

2. Clarify and Refine Operational Procedures

For many organisations, there has been a sudden influx of new procedures to ensure the safety of their employees and clients. However, these new protocols can add to the fatigue that employees go through.

International SOS is actively working with the retail and hospitality industries, which are among the hardest-hit sectors during the pandemic, to use this time to recalibrate and prepare for the road to recovery. For example, we are working with Oakwood, a diverse hospitality group with properties catering for short and long stays across Asia, the UK and the US, to enhance their operational procedures as the hospitality sector prepares for the resumption of travel. This includes reviewing existing policies, identifying gaps and recommending improvements, as well as equipping their respective facility teams with the means and will to adjust to these new protocols.

Providing guidance and clarity in operational procedures helps to minimise “pandemic fatigue” among employees, while assuring them of their health and safety at work. 

3. Design Strong Support Systems

Lastly, it is vital that organisations ensure that there are strong support systems that employees can access and reach out to.

A good example of this is a leading cosmetics brand in the duty-free channel that we are working with to develop a tailored workforce resilience programme, and provide support measures like a 24/7 access to managers and employees for medical, security and mental health advice and assistance. We are also providing strategic counsel services for these employees, with dedicated senior health and security experts, to prepare for the return of business travel, and ensure the safety and wellbeing of employees.

“Pandemic fatigue” can stem from various concerns and affect our personal and professional lives in many ways but having the right support structure in place can help everyone to overcome it.

As businesses prepare for a post-pandemic reality, it is clear that business continuity is underpinned by a healthy and resilient workforce. In implementing a holistic workforce resilience programme that provides 24/7 access to health, safety and confidential psychological support, open communication channels and a positive workplace culture, organisations can start developing an adaptable and resilient workforce that is ever ready to embrace new challenges and emerge stronger than before.

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