By now, everybody knows the drill: wear a mask, wash your hands, have a video or phone conference instead of meeting face to face, stay six feet apart. The list of COVID-19 precautions goes on and on. And for good reason. Even as vaccines may make it possible to bring employees back to work, COVID-19 continues pose a significant risk to the health and welfare of your employees, clients and your business. How do you reinforce safety precautions, especially as so many employees are starting to feel “pandemic fatigue”?
The World Health Organization (WHO) explains pandemic fatigue as a demotivation for following recommended protective behaviors during a pandemic. Also called “caution fatigue” or “COVID-19 fatigue,” pandemic fatigue is a natural response likened to a battery that starts off strong and loses energy over the duration of its use. Stressors and restrictions related to the pandemic can cause feelings of depression, anxiety and distraction, as well as a disinterest in continuing safe behaviors. This can cause individuals to be less vigilant about COVID-19 protocols, such as consistent mask wearing or hand washing.
It is not unlikely that your employees are feeling the same way toward the various protective measures you have put in place. Left unchecked, this may result in the failure to follow protocols and increase risk of COVID-19 exposure in your workplace.
This is easier said than done when everyone just wants to “get back to normal.” Whether it is missing chatting in the breakroom or feeling the isolation of working remotely, the pandemic has taken a real toll on the workforce. Recent studies have suggested that between 58 and 75 percent of workers reported feelings of burn-out, and much of this increase is directly attributable to the pandemic.
Easing back on COVID-19 protocols to address burnout is not the safest solution to this problem. Instead, employers should proactively remind employees of the importance of the adhering to safety guidelines, especially as employers start to bring employees back.
Employers can both reinforce the COVID-19 related precautions employees are expected to follow, and also take the time to appreciate employees’ efforts and to thank employees for their continued diligence. This is also a good time to re-educate employees as to why certain precautions are still being taken in the workplace. As many managers and HR professionals know, when employees understand the “why” behind a task or rule, there is a much better chance they will support it willingly, rather than grudgingly. This in turn fosters employee engagement and “buy-in” instead of disengagement or resentment toward the rule or restriction.
If employers have learned one thing about responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is to be ready to change, as federal, state, and local guidance has been developed, revised, and changed again.
Now may be a great time to review your COVID-19 protocols and related work procedures to determine whether certain measures can or should be tweaked now, or in the near future, or just need to be reinforced. Asking employees about their work experiences and feelings related to COVID-19 safety or the impact of the pandemic on work goals and tasks is a great way to begin this review. When employees feel that they are a part of the process, they are much more likely to feel satisfied with the outcome, even if the change is a minor one.
And if certain safety protocols cannot be changed right now, it may still be possible to address and try to remediate some of the pain points your employees may be experiencing. For example, if your workforce has been and will remain remote for the near future you may want to check in with your remote employees to assess their stress level and ability to copy with working from home. Are there some adjustments that can be made to increase productivity and lessen any stressors that come from the remote environment?
In other words, while we see the light at the end of the tunnel, there is still a long road ahead. Employers should be reassessing and considering how to combat the very natural feelings of pandemic fatigue and ensure employees are prepared to work safely into 2021.
For additional information, contact us
Janice Pintar has extensive litigation experience in the field of employment law and was a plaintiff’s attorney for nearly thirteen years before becoming an HR Consultant in 2015.
Janice Pintar has extensive litigation experience in the field of employment law and was a plaintiff’s attorney for nearly thirteen years before joining Associated Financial Group’s HR Consultants in 2015. She educates and advises Human Resources professionals and employers on a broad range of employment issues and best practices and costly litigation compliance topics including respectful workplace practices, unlawful harassment avoidance, wage and hour issues, medical leaves and accommodations, as well as federal and state discrimination and anti-retaliation issues. Janice received her undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, magna cum laude, and her law degree from the University of Wisconsin, cum laude.
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