Science Talk

How to overcome 'pandemic fatigue'

Pandemic fatigue can take a toll on mental health, impact job performance and productivity, and hinder business resilience. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

It has been almost six months since the Covid-19 pandemic began, and in many ways it feels like we have made it through the worst.

Life has not fully returned to normal, but we are making adjustments to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe by working in split shifts, limiting social gatherings and finding new ways to unwind.

But there are others who may be experiencing "pandemic fatigue". As the pandemic drags on, many might attest to experiencing uncertainty over how long it will last, struggling to stay resilient, weary of continuing with safe distancing efforts, and having deeper negative moods.

While pandemic fatigue may not be an official medical condition, it can take a toll on mental health, impact job performance and productivity, and hinder business resilience.

As the economic impact of the pandemic continues to unfold, business leaders and employees need to adopt a shared responsibility to address these challenges. It is vital to build a holistic workforce resilience programme where employees feel their health, safety and well-being are key priorities.

A key pillar of the approach by International SOS - which is in the business of workforce resilience - is to implement a sustainable support structure for all employees via effective and empathetic communication channels.

Regular situational updates and check-ins with employees go a long way in ensuring managers are aware of any struggles that employees might be facing, reducing feelings of uncertainty and anxiety among them, and equipping them well to address any existing or emerging challenges at the workplace.

To this end, International SOS has developed a range of tools, such as its Covid-19 website, which is open to the public.

It is also working with organisations in the retail and hospitality industries - which are among the hardest-hit sectors - to help them recalibrate and prepare for their road to recovery.

This includes reviewing existing policies, identifying gaps and recommending improvements, as well as equipping teams with the means and will to adjust to these new protocols. The aim is to maintain a healthy and resilient workforce during the pandemic and beyond.

Individuals can also take steps to ease pandemic fatigue. Some of these steps include:

  • Accepting negative emotions. Be honest about pent-up emotions like anxiety and uncertainty.
  • Creating new goals. Set personal goals that are achievable, enjoyable and will give a sense of accomplishment, whether it is exercise or small weekly social gatherings.
  • Conserving emotional resources. When necessary, employees should take time out from work to prioritise self-care. They can take their annual leave, even if it is just to relax at home or to spend time with loved ones.
  • Being kind to themselves. Employees should recognise that it is okay to have both good and bad days. Instead of focusing on the negatives, they can acknowledge and celebrate their achievements.
  • Asking for help. Almost everyone has experienced some level of discomfort during this period, so employees do not have to be afraid to seek support from mental health professionals in their organisation or elsewhere, whenever needed.

• Dr Low Kiang Wei is medical director at International SOS, which helps companies ensure workforce resilience through customised health, security risk management and well-being solutions.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 26, 2020, with the headline How to overcome 'pandemic fatigue'. Subscribe