The pandemic has forced us to change in innumerable ways over the past year. As we reflected on the 1-year anniversary of the UK lockdown (while still being in one at present), it is impossible to ignore the consequences and issues companies are now facing within their workforce.
When the first lockdown came into effect, leaders had to make quick decisions, delegate, come up with innovative ways to collaborate remotely, find new supply options and pivot business models to overcome this crisis.
Now, a year on, they are facing a new challenge – that of overcoming Pandemic Fatigue.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has defined “pandemic fatigue” as “feeling demotivated about following recommended behaviors to protect ourselves and others from the virus.”
Leaders are now grappling with the after-effects of lockdown, with feelings of anxiety, stress, depression and disillusionment rife within the workforce. The uncertainty, demotivation and working from home continuously have been extremely mentally exhausting. All of this is in tandem with the larger overriding issues of unemployment, massive changes and disrupted supply are still present, with trajectories indicating Pandemic Fatigue will get worse over the next year.
As many as 60% of people in the UK are saying they are finding it harder to stay positive daily compared with before the pandemic – an 8-point increase from November, an Ipsos Mori survey found.
So, what are some of the things leaders and senior figures within a company can do to help their workforce through this challenge, to mitigate burnout and reenergise their teams?
By this, of course, we mean truly listening. Listening deeply. Acknowledging that each person might be facing different challenges and are at different stages within the crisis. In many cases, leaders tend to go through these stages quicker than the remaining workforce. This can cause some disconnect and, to avoid this, it is important to focus on the issues at hand. By including 1-on-1 sessions, focus groups and not relying on the generic “How are you?” “I’m okay” conversation, leaders can get a deeper understanding of what their team is going through. While listening is an important part of this, it is really only the first step. It is crucial to absorb this information and take action after that.
2. Develop Adaptability
A trait that has been invaluable throughout this crisis is that of adaptability. This skill has become increasingly desirable and organisations that had this ability tended to respond better during the pandemic. Adaptability helps drive innovation and nurture new mindsets and operations. But this capability is a beneficial skill and something organisations can actively develop within their existing workforce – through the pandemic and beyond. This can be done through programs to develop adaptability skills, promoting the use of new mindsets such as curiosity and exploration to help transform their operations in fundamentally different ways.
3. A Focus on Care and Well-being
Companies and leaders need to elevate the conversation around well-being and remove the stigma around asking for help. Compared to pre-Covid times, this has definitely come to the forefront for a lot of organisations. But while most companies may already have certain programs in place, their availability may not have been communicated effectively to team members. This could potentially mean a large number of employees are unaware of the resources available to them. To mitigate this, leaders may need to revisit these and update them or simply communicate the options available to team members and make them more easily accessible.
4. Refine and Evolve Operating Models
By doing this, companies can create environments in which their workforce can disconnect and take breaks to reenergise or to get help if they need it. Organisations can roll out mandatory breaks between meetings rather than let each individual team member decide and plan this by themselves. By putting new norms in place such as providing additional paid leave during a crisis, flexible working, mandatory breaks, No Zoom Fridays (as CitiGroup recently announced) can help mitigate this pandemic fatigue and improve productivity.
As leaders, it is also crucial to understand that individual team members may be going through different situations and may have different coping mechanisms. Through effective and empathetic communication, organisations can address these hardships and develop strong support systems to help them through this trying time.
Lastly, leaders are also human beings and must also acknowledge their own hardships. After all, they cannot take care of others if they are not taking care of themselves. It is also incredible role modelling, helping teams understand that this situation affects us all and that it is okay to not be okay.
There is definitely a lot of positive news to look forward to with the vaccination roll-out and hope for a sense of normality in the summer. But, until then, spotting the signs, taking breaks and effective communication within the team is imperative to work through pandemic fatigue and overcome it.
If you found this article interesting and are keen to hear more conversations like this, join me on our podcast The Leader Insight Series – where top leaders from the Food & Beverage industry provide real insight and inspiration you can apply. You can also listen for free via your preferred podcasting platform including Apple, Spotify, Google Podcasts and Anchor FM.