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Ways to protect workers from pandemic fatigue

October 27, 2020
By Kristina Vassilieva

(Orbon Alija/Getty Images)

The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is underway and there is no end yet in sight.

After over half a year of restrictions, increased health and safety measures and changes in their personal and professional lives, many people’s mental health has taken a hit.

Pandemic fatigue is becoming more common and can become another obstacle for businesses in the coming months, and employers can be proactive in preventing and addressing this issue, according to Kiljon Shukullari, advisory team lead at HR consultancy firm Peninsula Canada.

Effect on businesses

What is pandemic fatigue and how does it affect businesses?


“Pandemic fatigue occurs when people get tired of adhering to pandemic restrictions and are desensitized to new public health guidelines and messaging,” says Shukullari.

“In the workplace, this might mean that employees are less careful about distancing, wearing personal protective equipment and keeping up with hygiene and sanitizing procedures.”

As people grow more relaxed with following health and safety rules in their personal lives, they are increasing their own risk of exposure to COVID-19 and consequentially that of others in their workplace as well, he says.

For businesses, this could lead to a COVID-19 outbreak, steep penalties and even prosecution if an inspection reveals that health and safety requirements are not being fulfilled.

Responsibilities of employers

It is the duty of business owners and employers to ensure everyone in their workplace is following health and safety procedures and government guidelines on COVID-19, says Shukullari.

As pandemic regulations are ever-changing, it can be frustrating and confusing for staff to stay up to date and have the continued motivation to follow the rules, especially if cases in their area are low, he says.

“Employers should be consistent in their expectations when it comes to staff following health and safety practices,” he says. “They should also be staying up to date with the latest COVID-19 developments and government orders, keeping staff informed and providing them with training as necessary.”

Identifying pandemic fatigue

The first step in addressing pandemic fatigue is identifying it, says Shukullari.

Employees with any of the following signs might be experiencing pandemic fatigue:

  • decreased diligence in following health and safety protocols
  • low engagement and productivity
  • irritability, low morale and anxiety
  • difficulty concentrating on their work.

Employers who suspect their employees might be struggling should have a private discussion with them to confirm this and find out whether they need any support.

Providing support to staff

You never know what someone might be going through, says Shukullari.

“An employee might be feeling overwhelmed or frustrated due to factors in their personal lives, be stressed because they are working in isolation or because they are worried about returning to the workplace,” he says. “It is important to understand that this is a difficult time for many, and that staff will need support rather than discipline if their performance starts to slip.”

To help support workers’ well-being at this time, employers can suggest the following tips:

  • practising self-care (getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising)
  • limiting their news intake
  • reducing stress through yoga or meditation
  • spending time outdoors
  • connecting with others virtually.

To encourage workers to continue following health and safety precautions properly, employers should stress that these protocols are in place to protect them, their families and public health, says Shukullari.

Keeping expectations consistent, providing protective equipment and ensuring hygiene supplies are readily available throughout the workspace will also make it easier for employees to follow the rules.

Kristina Vassilieva is an HR writer for Peninsula Canada in Toronto.

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