How to re-energize to combat pandemic fatigue
Happy New Year dear reader, I hope 2021 will bring you lots of inspiration, aspiration and good health!
Perhaps you returned to work after a relaxing Christmas break or maybe you have been working during the festive season. Either way, there is a good chance that you have been thinking about the new year and the challenges and opportunities it may hold for you workwise. From mondain topics such as the latest homeworking fashion trends and colourful wall decorations to spice up your zoom sessions, to more serious concerns such as pandemic fatigue and job security.
Just as the terms “pre-war” and “post-war” are commonly used to describe the 20th century, the terms pre-COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 will mark this era whereby 2021 will be the year of transformation. A year where we hopefully manage to stop the spread of the virus, put the (many) lessons learned into practice to prevent a similar outbreak in the future and adjust our lives and work to a new normal. It’s a year of hope. Hope that we will stay healthy, keep our jobs or start a new one, are able to meet and hug our family and friends, go out for dinner or to the theatre, travel abroad and expand our horizon. Let’s face it, the lockdown has turned our world into a very small place. Even if you are happy at home, the simple fact that you don’t have a choice can leave you feeling anxious and depressed.
Pandemic fatigue is on the rise
After nearly a year of lockdowns and governmental restrictions, pandemic fatigue is on the rise. If a colleague asked you how you are doing recently, how often have you said, “I’m fine”, “I’m managing” or even “I’m not sure how much longer I can keep going like this”. Research conducted by McKinsey shows that organizations and employees across Europe and the US are reporting increasing levels of pandemic fatigue. The number of employees who rate their mental health as “very poor” is more than three times higher than before the crisis. It’s not surprising that stress levels are rising as we’ve endured a global pandemic, an economic crisis and social unrest. On top of that we are experiencing technological innovations, business-model disruption, societal inequality, and workforce automation.
There is also an economic cost involved; for the global economy the loss of productivity because of poor mental health can be as high as $1 trillion per year. The pandemic has also created a disproportionate mental toll on women in the workplace, causing one in four senior-level women to consider leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to look after children or ill relatives.
Since the start of the pandemic, organizations launched many different initiatives from exercize programs to online happy hours to support their employees. Now that we are coming up for a year in lock down modus, even these initiatives start to feel like just another thing to do on the growing “to do” list. And with no clear end in sight, the energy rush buoyed by inspirational messages such as “we can get through this together” that kept us going since the start of the crisis has faded.
It is understandable that we experience a sense of loss and disillusionment, as it is a normal response to a traumatic disruption such as the health crisis. COVID-19 has challenged our beliefs about the future as we thought we would be back to the workplace and back to “normal” by now. We thought home working would bring a better work-life balance but many of us are working longer and harder than before with no clear end in sight. This feeling of uncertainty is exhausting and has a crippling effect on motivation, mental health and energy levels.
Re-energize by building a human centric organization
The good news is that the pandemic has put employees’ mental and physical wellbeing firmly on the agenda. While many organizations were already experimenting with wellness programs and other initiatives, there is now a clear move toward a more holistic wellbeing approach that fosters human connection and caring. Here are a few tips on how to re-energize for the year ahead:
- Take time off. Even in times of stress and uncertainty it is important to take time off to recover and recharge. This may seem odd when there is nowhere to go on holiday, but even a few days to relax can help re-energize. Read that book that has been on your reading list for months, go for a long walk in the country side or take a forest bath to de-stress and unwind. Even in the navy, after particularly stressful periods, captains navigate ships to calm waters for sailors to rest. Organizations need to keep an eye on holiday take up and should encourage their employees to take regular breaks. There are companies that make it mandatory or offer additional days off to relieve stress and re-energize.
- Prioritize. Now is the time to tackle the “cult of busy” by focussing on the work that matters most. You can start prioritizing by declining all meetings where you feel you can’t add value. Managers can help employees to clarify priorities and pursue short-term, more achievable goals. Managing the energy of your team is a continuing responsibility and celebrating wins and achievements – no matter how small – will keep motivation and energy levels up.
- Shift your narrative. Communicate messages that are less about returning to normal and more about acceptance. As employees yearn to get back to normal, many managers continue to frame the current circumstances as temporary. This can have disillusioning effect as there may be no return to normal. It’s important to shift the narrative to new possibilities and opportunities. Grounding this narrative in the organization’s purpose helps employees make sense of their new reality and regain a sense of stability, which can help reignite individual motivation, wellbeing, and productivity in the workforce.
- Listen. While many of us may have back to back calls, we don’t take the time to really listen to the needs or concerns of colleagues or team members. At the office, informal encounters even gossip at the water cooler gave a sense of connection. Starting a call with checking in on everybody how they are and taking five minutes to talk about non-work topics is a good start. There are organizations that are setting up listening tours, where their leaders are trained in deep listening skills before meeting with colleagues across the organization in virtual focus groups. Managers can sometimes start by showing vulnerability themselves to signal that “it’s OK to not be OK.” It is also key to listen continually, particularly during the coming year as we continue to battle the pandemic whereby moods and needs are bound to fluctuate. In addition, organizations can collect valuable insights from their data sources – e.g. satisfaction surveys, absenteeism percentages, helpline and wellbeing data – to address the most acute needs faster.
How organizations respond to this crisis defines whether they simply survive or thrive, emerging as a more human-centered company better suited to adapt to the challenges ahead.
- McKinsey research “The next normal trends that will define 2021 and beyond”
- McKinsey article “Overcoming pandemic fatigue”
By Marianne Hewlett, Senior Vice President and member of the Scientific Community