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How can leaders reduce pandemic fatigue in the workplace?

According to the World Health Organisation Europe, European nations are reporting increasing levels of pandemic fatigue in their population, which leaves people feeling demotivated about following recommended behaviours to protect themselves and others from the virus. While positive news about highly effective vaccines gives us new hope, it doesn’t change the fact that a lot of people are struggling, and it might continue to be the case for the near future.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that even when the situation improves, we are not likely to simply return to how things were before the COVID-19 crisis, as our collective responses to the pandemic is likely to result in permanent shifts in ways of working, business models and consumer behaviours.

Human-centered culture

According to Gartner, the amount of change that the average employee can absorb without becoming fatigued is half what it was last year, manifesting in negative reactions such as burnout, frustration or apathy — and resulting in lower employee engagement and productivity. However, there has also been a positive shift in focus on empathy and compassion, with organisations introducing more human-centered principles that put people and talent in the heart of organisational success. Today, leaders and business are increasingly addressing that negative emotions can be as contagious as the virus, and they are also toxic.

In the current environment, leaders need to display inspiration, hope, and optimism to help their people make meaning out of the circumstances by creating an understanding of what’s happening. This in return can build confidence and endurance, as well as create reassurance if the outcome takes longer or is different from what is expected. By showing compassion and creating hope with a realistic framework that resonates with employees, leaders can maintain their integrity and authenticity and drive their teams forward.

In the latest McKinsey capability-building survey of more than 1,200 global leaders and teams, adaptability came out as one of the top two capabilities identified by senior executives as crucial for supporting growth and recovery from the pandemic. The other capability was inspirational leadership. As data shows, upskilling to adaptability and resilience can be a powerful way to improve well-being, as well as drive creativity, innovation and engagement. Organisations that invest in well-being of their teams see four times higher profits, a 20 percent increase in productivity and innovation, and they are better prepared to handle disruptions in the future.

Re-energising for the long run

At the start of the pandemic employees mustered the energy and determination to respond fast and surprisingly well to unprecedented challenges. But fast forward nine months, and with no clear end in sight, the adrenaline rush of those early high-energy sprints is now fading. Employees are still trying to sprint through what has become a marathon; however, the pace is not sustainable.

A new study from Harvard Business School confirms that we are spending too much time in meetings and video calls, creating burnout, and hurting productivity. While the duration of meetings has dropped considerably, the frequency of meetings and other check-ins appears to be taking a toll. Possibly, as a result of employees tending to children and other responsibilities during the workday, the average workday length has increased by 8.2% or about 48 minutes.

Naturally, there are differences in productivity across employees, as some might find working from home energising, but many won’t be able to be as effective as they would be under normal conditions. At Acumen, we pride ourselves in offering development that gives managers practical tools to help solve real-life challenges. We offer an extensive menu of courses, workshops and coaching programmes, ranging from communication skills through to executive leadership development. In most cases, we design the interventions specifically for each client, but we also offer a wide range of off-the-shelf programmes for those who prefer this approach. For more information about our programmes please contact Simon at


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