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Pandemic Fatigue: What Companies Need to Know to Help Their Customers and Their Agents

Pay attention to the signs of pandemic fatigue and burn out, and ask for help if needed.

We are almost a year into quarantine, and while some things may be starting to feel “normal,” it doesn’t change the fact that nearly everything has been flipped on its head. Even when we begin to grow accustomed to things, that doesn’t ever actually make them normal. Being perpetually on edge or thrust into ambiguity has its effects, and you can bet that your team is feeling them.

The WHO defines pandemic fatigue as a lack of desire to practice COVID-19-related safety and a deep level of complacency, alienation, and hopelessness. None of those things are feelings that we want to have present in our workplaces, but they might already be familiar. Here’s how it may present in day-to-day life:

  • Being less engaged with hand washing, social distancing, and wearing masks, if in person.
  • Lower levels of productivity.
  • Anxiety or feelings of nervousness.
  • A lack of clarity and difficulty focusing.
  • Trouble sleeping.
  • Changes in appetite.

If this sounds like you or the members of your team, you’re not alone. The number of those who rate their mental health as “very poor” is more than three times higher than before the crisis. But, just because things are bad doesn’t mean they need to stay that way. Here are some tips to support your team as they navigate pandemic fatigue.

Show controlled optimism

It feels tiring when all that people around you are talking about are how many cases there are and how COVID-19 impacts their everyday life. While it may feel far away, the fact is that change is coming, and where we are now will not last forever. Show optimism grounded in reality.

Having a little hope isn’t hurtful. If you look at the data above, it can be even more helpful than overwhelming positivity or negativity. Be realistic but hopeful with your team. It will be a welcome reprieve from the news cycle and give them a bit of permission to feel positive as well. Beyond that, it will help them feel more productive: positive employee experiences result in a 40% increase in on-the-job effort.


Actually talk in your 1:1s

Many team leads and managers use 1:1s to go over data and performance metrics. While these certainly have a place, it’s more important to sync up with how your team members feel during the pandemic. Your metrics might not even be as meaningful as you’d like for them to be. One of the most challenging parts of the pandemic is wanting to feel like we know where it’s going or we’re in control when, frankly, that just isn’t the case. Your metrics don’t mean the same thing as they used to before the pandemic.

Instead of pushing on things that don’t necessarily make sense (like keeping response times the same), encourage your team to follow some best-practices for pandemic self-care:

  • Create a routine and stick to it, including providing healthy meals, resting, and moving your body in some way every day.
  • Try some new relaxation tactics, like meditation or deep breathing.
  • Pay attention to the signs of pandemic fatigue and burn out, and ask for help if needed.
  • Connect with your family and friends over Zoom or the phone.
  • Try to find things that bring you joy, like a new hobby or walking your dog, and build those into your daily life.

Re-evaluate your policies

Everything else has changed, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that your policies need to too. Family leave, sick time, how you handle lunch breaks. Re-evaluate it. Beyond that, it’s time to crystalize your remote work policies and make a commitment to what you’re going to do. Instead of saying you’re remote for right now, but that may change in the future, commit to the future. There’s enough of the world that is half-in-and-half-out for your employees—take away some of the ambiguity for them if you can.

Empower your team to talk about what they think is essential. Ask what team members are missing in their day-to-day, or where they are struggling. While you can read case-studies and understand what other companies are doing, nothing will be as impactful as asking your team and listening to what they have to say.

A Pew Research Center survey found that one-third of Americans have experienced extreme psychological distress due to the social distancing put in place with the pandemic. People are struggling and may not feel comfortable speaking up and asking for help unless you encourage them.

Lastly, don’t assume that just because you’ve made a change to a policy, it will be the last change you have to make. Your leadership team may need to amend things like paid time off to be with a family member as societal struggles, and the number of cases rises (or drops!). Let your team know it’s okay for them to come forward about any issues.

Make things easier, not harder

If you can remove the extraneous stuff from your employees’ lives, they’ll have more bandwidth to focus on their regular work tasks. Your team members’ brains are running on empty—the more extra gas you can get back to them, the better.

Things like home-office stipends, coverage for coworking spaces, and easy reimbursement policies take the extra brain labor out of the equation. When people don’t need to worry about buying themselves a computer or provisioning all of the tools they need to be effective at home, they can just get right to work.

Keep your paths of communication open and transparent. As soon as something changes with your business or strategy, let your team know. The sooner you can give people a heads up about something changing, the better. Similarly, be understanding when your team does the same for you. If your team lead comes to you to tell you that their children’s’ school is closing, and they’ll have all three kids home with them every day, avoid getting frustrated or exasperated. Working with them to be accomodating is an opportunity to be more human: a few different little faces muted on a Zoom call never hurt anyone.

Focus on making yourself better too

The pandemic is a time for you to make yourself better, too. No, we’re not saying you need to write the next great novel or run 20 miles every day. Focus on being resilient, rolling with the punches, and thinking creatively on the fly. Companies and leaders who build resilience amongst their teams also secure themselves against the potential volatility of the future.

Not only that, but when you are more adaptable, you also improve your well-being. You’re not so stressed out when things change or get a bit messy. You understand that you have the tools you need to move forward and that, ultimately, things will be okay. Work to cultivate that mentality within yourself and your team, and you’ll feel better moving into the future.

Kindness first

As a business, your bottom line is one of the things that you think about most. But, without your team, you wouldn’t even be able to build your bottom line. Lead with kindness, and understand that we are all in this together.

Even if you’re feeling frightened, put a brave face on for your team. Speak to team members and be vulnerable, but also try to show some controlled optimism. Everyone has their concerns. They don’t need to take on yours too. Maintain regular 1:1s to keep a pulse on how your team is doing.

You likely have some old policies that work to help your team in the new remote world, but be sure to update policies as it makes sense. Things like sick time and family leave can be even more critical during a pandemic. If you can make things easier, rather than harder, you should.

Lastly, just as you’re advising your team members to work on themselves and find adaptability, work on that for yourself. Everyone can benefit from a little peace of mind—work to cultivate space within yourself, and everyone will benefit. We will come out on the other end of this better and more aware of all the fantastic people around us.


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Mercer Smith-Looper Mercer Smith-Looper

Mercer is the Head of Support at Appcues, a yoga fanatic, and strives to make the world a little bit happier one customer at a time. You can find her at mercenator.com and on Twitter at @mercenator.

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