Employees are tired. After 19 months of struggling with COVID-19, employers and employees are reporting a sharp increase in burnout and fatigue.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shares that throughout the pandemic, working adults have elevated levels of substance abuse, suicidal ideation and other adverse mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression. The CDC pointed to several groups, including essential workers, who reported higher instances of mental and behavioral issues than the overall population.
These issues can lead to employee burnout and fatigue, which directly — and often adversely — impact the workplace. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration noted, “fatigue can cause weariness, sleepiness, irritability, reduced alertness, impaired decision making, and lack of motivation, concentration and memory.” Each of these effects can lead to an increase in poor job performance, such as general carelessness on the job, decreased productivity and, most importantly, workplace injuries and accidents.
What’s behind the increase in employee burnout and fatigue? There are a variety of reasons, but the biggest issue clearly is the stresses from the pandemic. Employees in Michigan and other states were on lockdown for long periods of time. After a while, that isolation can really take a toll on individuals.
The pandemic also required working parents to balance the needs of their school-age children with the challenges of working from home. These circumstances, combined with continued social unrest that has dominated media headlines over the past year, can consume an employee’s thoughts.
Additionally, the labor force is stretched thin, which makes it challenging if not impossible to maintain normal business operations. This means some employees may have had to endure even more changes to their everyday job expectations. These unparalleled changes and continued uncertainty are fueling employees’ collective burnout and fatigue.
What’s an employer to do? There are four things that can have an immediate and positive counterbalance to fatigue and burnout:
- Reassurance: It’s critical for employers to set a positive tone and create a supportive workplace culture. Whether the issues are related to or beyond the pandemic, establishing a positive workplace culture requires a top-down approach. Management should let their teams know how much they value and appreciate their contributions.
- Resources: If employers have an employee assistance program, be sure to remind and promote its availability to team members, especially those who are in safety-sensitive positions.
- Consistency: Now’s not the time to let up on workplace safety and health protocols. Employees who have historically followed these protocols may think less of them today, but it’s important to maintain a workplace free from recognized hazards. An employer’s failure to do so could result in a violation of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. The act, and its state counterparts, requires employers to provide a place of employment free from recognized hazards that can cause or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.
- Cross-training: In light of continued shortages, consider cross-training employees for different jobs so you can better distribute workloads. High performers tend to take on more responsibilities — and are at greater risk for burnout. To the extent employers can increase flexibility across their teams, workloads ease and stress is reduced.