Pandemic Fatigue is Driving Workers Away, Expert Says

26 Jan, 2022 Nancy Grover

                               

Sarasota, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) – Experiencing long periods of worry, anxiety and stress is exhausting. Two years into the pandemic has led to what some are calling ‘worry burnout,’ in which we are too tired to keep worrying but we can’t relax.

Feelings of hopelessness, anger, emptiness, despair and overwhelming powerlessness are among the emotions many people are suffering. Whatever terminology is used, many of us are just plain done with COVID-19. But it’s still here, raging as much or more than ever. While employers may be skeptical about addressing the emotional challenges facing their employees, there’s a bottom-line reason they need to.

“It’s not just a matter of helping them with their personal problems,” said Tyler Arvig, associate Medical Director of R3 Continuum. “There’s a direct correlation between what I’m struggling with in my personal life and how effective I am in the work environment, in terms of getting work done, interacting with colleagues, being focused on job tasks.”

Businesses can help mitigate workplace disruptions caused by personal stress, Arvig explained. Those that do are more likely to retain talent and thrive, while those that do not will – and already are – seeing their employees leaving.

Current Landscape

Many employees are jumping ship, or just exiting the workforce altogether. Part of that – especially in the service industry – is due to the fact that attitudes have changed since March 2020 when the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic. Initially, people were generally more willing to come together and be forgiving of changes, closings and delays. Not so much anymore.

“Dealing with people is not necessarily very pleasant. There is slow service, delays and mistakes made. People get annoyed,” Arvig said. “As things have drawn on and continue to, we get numb to that … we see situations where people are behaving poorly in public, saying things they should not. That just eats into the problem. “[Workers say] ‘I just don’t want to do this.”’

White collar workers, including those in senior leadership positions are also experiencing burnout. Part of that can be explained by the fact that much more is expected of top-level managers, many of whom are just not equipped to do the job. Lack of leadership is a reason cited by some employees who have left their positions.

One statistic showed turnover among CEOs themselves is higher than it has ever been, something rarely seen unless they retire or go elsewhere.

“They are saying, ‘this is too much for me,’” Arvig said. “A lot is the level of stress and the demand isn’t worth the pay or the hassle or the imbalance in their life. Leadership, in my mind, is probably the biggest issue we have to sort out in the current environment.”

In addition to the physical aspects of the virus, much of the stress these days is also due to non-pandemic, though related factors. Disruptions to the supply chain, for example, have put people on edge. The economy and rising inflation is another big factor. Continuing political disagreements haven’t helped.

Whatever the reasons, stress and fatigue are rampant throughout society – including in the workplace. Employers that want to stay in business and not spend all their time seeking new workers need to let their employees know they care; to some extent share their own frustrations; and go the extra mile to help those who may be suffering the most. 

There are simple things employers can do to help lower the stress levels of their employees; such as encouraging them to take time off to which they are entitled, taking breaks during the day, even just go for a walk. Just checking in with employees alleviates the feeling that organizations don’t really care about them, one of the biggest drivers of employee burnout. Those types of strategies will help, at least in the short term. But it’s not enough.

“Every organization should be thinking long term,” Arvig said. “Initially, we thought shutdowns would be for a couple of weeks. We now realize this is very much long term. And we’re not just talking about the virus – we’ll get to a point where it not the primary concern. What’s happening in organizations is going to be long term.”

Being flexible is among the most important things an organization can do to help its employees. A major issue, for example, is where employees work. Many organizations that sent their workers home to work temporarily are saying that will be permanent.

“Some appreciate that, some don’t, and we’re going to get flexible there. But that flexibility is not just for the rest of this year,” Arvig said. “It’s going to be for the next 10 years or beyond.”

Such a major change in how society functions is not unusual in human history. The Great Depression and World War Two, for example, led to significant and lasting changes. 

“Times of great disruption are the apex of the center of when things start to turn or to change,” Arvig said. “Thig will be no different for organizations. So don’t be thinking ‘we’re just going to do this for the next three or six months.’ Think about what are we going to do long term, because if you want to keep your people, and you want to keep your talent, you’ve got to be thinking longterm.”

Strategies

Businesses that will be most successful are those that figure out how their needs can coexist or even thrive with their employees’ needs. The idea that workers who are focused on personal issues, or working from home are less productive is going by the wayside.

“Those are the kinds of things we have to capitalize on because some organizations are going to get flexible and do that and others will not, and those not willing to get flexible are going to suffer consequences of people leaving and finding organizations that are.

Employers that see quality employees leaving are advised to take a long hard look at the possible reasons. While it may be for more money, that’s rarely the sole reason people jump ship.

“It doesn’t mean random exit interviews,” Arvig said. “It means really looking at, asking your folks, ‘what keeps you here?’ ‘What do you love about it?’ ‘If we changed anything what should it be?’”

For employees who may be struggling, employers can address behavioral changes. Simply asking, ‘how are you doing? I see you seems to be struggling with your work?’ is a way to start. Then sharing personal struggles may help, such as letting the worker know that the manager herself has had difficulty with sales lately.

“Sharing, not oversharing, but being a little bit transparent,” Arvig said. “Personal stressors are not just affecting people who report to you but everyone in the organization … being able to ask and also share a little to allow that transfer of information, not digging into their private mental health or physical information. Showing you care is important.”


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    About The Author

    • Nancy Grover

      Nancy Grover is a freelance writer having recently retired as the Director, Media Services for WorkersCompensation.com. She comes to our company with more than 35 years as a broadcast journalist and communications consultant. Grover’s specialties include insurance, workers’ compensation, financial services, substance abuse, healthcare and disability. For 12 years she served as the Program Chair of the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo. A journalism/speech graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University, Grover also holds an MBA from Palm Beach Atlantic University.

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