By Charndré Emma Kippie
As we move closer to the half year mark for 2022, it is a time of reflection as we realise how far the world has come in our efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic. Going on to three years of prevalence in South Africa, Covid-19 has had major effects on all sectors of our nation.
The reality is that everyone is exhausted; tired of ‘pandemic talk’ and drained by the rollercoaster of lockdown level adjustments.
A Decrease in Compliance
Last year The University of Johannesburg (UJ) and the Human Sciences Research Council completed a study to zoom in on the use of face masks in public spaces in South Africa throughout the pandemic. The study indicated a concerning trend pointing to ‘Pandemic Fatigue’, as well as decreasing public compliance with health safety measures, as South Africa desperately looks to avoid further waves of Covid-19 infections.
From a business perspective, many employees are growing tired of all the ongoing pandemic-related restrictions, updates and the need to constantly adapt and then re-adapt to changing lockdown levels. As a result, many employees are becoming heedless in maintaining compliance with Covid-19 protocols, such as constantly maintaining safe social distance when in office and wearing a face mask all day. This behaviour is a clear sign of ‘pandemic fatigue’, which is creating challenges and potential legal risks that employers urgently need to address.
Patterns of Cause & Effect
There are multiple documented causes behind pandemic fatigue. This includes anxiety, the lingering effects of adjusted lockdown levels, the ‘inconvenience’ of stipulated health protocols such face masks on people’s lifestyles and livelihoods, and increasing complacency when good news is revealed and vaccinations increase.
At this point, employers need to note the risk of sabotaging their organisation’s health and safety programmes should they resort to a habit of ‘picking and choosing’ which regulations to enforce and which to not adhere to. For example, if some employees are merely allowed to ignore face mask protocols, why not develop an attitude towards wearing hard hats or safety glasses for safety requirements as well?
Pandemic fatigue may also present itself through more apparent changes in employees’ moods or demeanor. This may result in a severe lack of concentration because an employee is experiencing sleeplessness and angst during these trying times. Relieving stress has also not been that easy as of late, with gyms and many public spaces being off limits at times due to constantly changing lockdown alert levels in the country.
Essentially, pandemic fatigue has become prevalent in our society due to living and working under unwavering Covid-19 restrictions for a prolonged period of time. Adjusting to these new behaviours expected of us, such as social distancing and hypervigilance, has undeniably taken a toll on society, having a noticeable negative effect on the workplace.
Moving Beyond & Being Proactive
All business owners are bound by legal obligations to make sure that Covid-19-related health and safety protocols are adhered to within the workplace. Here are some suggestions for proactive steps that employers can take to combat pandemic fatigue:
Regular reiteration of all safety rules
Now, more than ever, employers need to make safety a core pillar of workplace culture. Covid-19-related protocols should become intermeshed with other safety rules and regulations, and be part of one holistic safety guide. Employers should also try to incentivise their staff to comply with health and safety rules, and reward compliant behaviour regularly through the 4Cs: compassion, calmness, compliments and confidence.
- Compassion: Recognise and show empathy towards challenges we are all facing.
- Calmness: Foster a sense of stability in the workplace.
- Compliments: Give positive feedback to boost employee morale.
- Confidence: Take an optimistic approach in the face of uncertainty.
Consistency is Key
Employers should try, at all costs, to be consistent in their treatment of staff, regularly checking in with employees to make certain that each team member is okay. A staff member may be coping with the news of a friend or family member having tested positive for Covid-19; may have a family member who is in a hospital or health care facility that is not allowing any visitors; or may have recently lost someone to the virus. At this point in time, support is in high demand, and should be given to your staff members (who are your greatest assets) as much as possible.
Leaders in any business need to highlight all the customer, product or organisational innovations that have been offset by the pandemic, and will serve the company well moving into the future. It is a good time to encourage employees to be active participants in this process and offer their innovative, yet realistic ideas that may empower the business in the long run. Expressing such confidence in and appreciation for your employee’s individual ingenuity, and commitment to stay the course, will go a long way in boosting team spirit and the overall workplace culture.