Understanding fatigue in the workplace due to the pandemic

Understanding fatigue in the workplace due to the pandemic

Pandemic fatigue

A few days into our new lockdown, I was having a conversation with a friend. Neither of us was not feeling our normal self. We admitted to each other that we felt like crying all the time; we felt quite tired and not in the mood to do anything.  We also felt levels of anxiety and depression, which had not been the case a week or two earlier. After talking to each other, we both felt a definite sense of relief that we were not alone, and after some research, we reached the conclusion that many people experience similar feelings.

This fatigue we all feel is known by various names, including “COVID-19-fatigue”, “pandemic-fatigue” or even “Zoom-fatigue”. No matter what you call it, this fatigue is resulting in diminished performance and an increase in work-related incidents. And as many business owners know, poor performance leads to poor and sub-standard work and quality of products, which in turn affects their performance and turnover.

What is pandemic fatigue?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines “pandemic fatigue” as demotivation to follow recommended protective behaviours, emerging gradually over time and affected by several emotions, experiences and perceptions. In other words, pandemic fatigue is the feeling of being sick and tired of the pandemic. It makes us feel exhausted by everything that is happening in the world around us.

The psychologist, Justin Ross, has the best way of describing pandemic fatigue. He calls it the “three-headed monster”, as it causes us to become depressed or sad, anxious and exhausted. All of us are experiencing pandemic fatigue in one way or another.

The effect of fatigue on the business

As mentioned, fatigue influences multiple facets of a business which can result in a loss of income and even life. An increase in work-related incidents was noted while we were reaching the end of 2020 and again now in the middle of 2021. Employees and managers mentioned that they are tired and lacking focus.

What does it mean for a business if fatigue goes unmanaged?

  • Poor performance
  • Sub-standard work
  • Dissatisfied customers
  • Loss of revenue
  • Increase absenteeism
  • Increase in incidents
  • Damage to products, material and equipment
  • Increase in expenditure
  • Loss of life
  • Damage to the company’s brand.

These can be determinantal and lead to the deterioration and ultimate closure of a business. Thus, despite being exhausted themselves, employers and managers must continuously battle with fatigue in the workplace and find the resources to motivate employees.

It would be good practice to develop and implement a Fatigue Management Plan to identify the risks related to fatigue within your specific business. In the Fatigue Management Plan, reference should be made to mental and physical well-being and the importance thereof, and sufficient information should be provided to your employees to ensure that they can also manage the exhaustion they experience at home. This can form part of an overall or overarching Employee Wellness Programme.

A few tips to self-manage pandemic fatigue

  • Accept that it is ok not to be ok

It is normal to feel this way, especially during the trying times we are facing. We cannot change what we do not acknowledge, so it is important to acknowledge our feelings and move forward from there.

  • Take time to take care of yourself

Whether it is taking a bubble bath, reading a book, or taking a nap, it does not matter. Practising self-care is vital to your mental and physical well-being.

  • Get enough sleep

There have been multiple studies that show the importance of sufficient sleep. The average person needs 6-8 hours of sleep a night, but if you are exhausted you will have to adapt.

  • Remember to breathe

Taking deep breaths can help us to control anxiety. Many people have spoken about the importance of practised, deliberate breathing. It might sound trite, but it really does work.

  • Get up and exercise

Go for a run. Do some squats. Dance. Whatever your favourite form of physical exercise, do it! It has been proven that exercise helps to enhance our mood. Just get up and move.

  • Monitor the amount of time you spend on social media

We tend to “doom scroll” when we are on our phones, which causes us to become a good deal more upset and sends us down a rabbit hole of spending hours a day on all types of social media. And, unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation on most platforms. It is extremely important for us to know which information is trustworthy (things sent out by the Department of Health, for example) and which is false information (things shared on Facebook by your aunt who shares anything with the word Covid in it). This is probably one of the most difficult things for most of us to do, but is quite important for our wellbeing.

  • Demonstrate gratitude

From a psychological perspective, tons of research indicate that deliberate actions of reaching out to others in need, and noticing and perhaps even listing in writing at least five things per day to be grateful for, despite adversity, will go a long way in alleviating stress, anxiety and fatigue.

The pandemic has taken a mental, emotional and physical toll on all of us, and we are all trying to cope in our own way while also trying to find some sort of balance between work and personal life. We are also trying to keep each other as safe as possible. Fighting pandemic fatigue is not easy but the most important thing is to never give up, to reach out to people for help and to have hope. We will get through this, and no one has to go through it alone.

Finding means to encourage yourself and your employees increases the demands made on your own resources and that of the business. SERR Synergy can assist your business with regard to OHS compliance through the development of a mental well-being programme, the necessary policies, documentation, training and support relating to the various matters arising from your workplace. Our team of OHS Professionals can relieve the stress and concerns that might affect your business’ capability to stay operational.

About the Authors: Mariska Wiese joined SERR in October 2020. She is an Occupational Health and Safety Environmental Advisor at the Pretoria Branch. She has a degree in Human Physiology, Genetics and Psychology from the University of Pretoria and is currently studying towards a certificate in Environmental Management through NEBOSH. She contributes to the environmental side of OHS and Ergonomics.

Chantelle Steyn recently joined the Health and Safety team of SERR Synergy and, with her creative background, has provided a fresh perspective. She currently holds a certificate from Damelin in Multimedia Design and is expanding her experience in both Multimedia and Health & Safety through various courses. Her contribution includes the development of multimedia presentations, allowing for digital representation of our health and safety product training.


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