COVID Fatigue, Part 2: Tips for Finding Balance

COVID fatigue has become one of the most used buzz phrases of 2021, and although we might be tired of hearing about it, the fact is, it remains a reality. The symptoms typically show up as demotivation, inability to focus, depression, irritability, and burnout.

This all adds yet another challenge to veterinary practice owners and managers across the country who are doing their best to find balance with employees who are "over it" and the fact that none of us truly has a clear idea of when the pandemic will really be over.

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Ideally, those in leadership are able recognize and troubleshoot these issues before they severely impact job performance or spark resignations due to burnout. However, the signs aren't always visible on the surface, and as the leaders of our veterinary hospitals, we may need to take action to boost morale, motivation, and general well-being in our teams and ourselves.

This is challenging to say the least, but here are a few first steps to get you — and your practice — moving in the right direction.

Allow More Time and Be Transparent

The pandemic has brought information overload and inconsistency into our everyday lives, so people are becoming more analytical and cautious when faced with change and decisions. This means some employees may need more time than usual to adjust or adapt to seemingly minor transitions at work, so it's important to show compassion and patience as they do.

It also makes transparency essential, and explaining the "why" behind changes in processes or protocols will get better results and cause less anxiety. In addition, setting aside more time for one-on-one check-ins can enhance transparency in the other direction. Inquiring about your employees' needs and individual well-being directly can help you gain valuable insight on how they truly feel about changes. This will build trust and make you a appear more approachable manager.

Minimize Stressors

We cannot control the prolonged stress and anxiety that comes with a global pandemic, but we do have control over many daily stressors that put our team at higher risk for burnout. According to the CDC, the following are common work-related factors that can add to stress during the pandemic:

  • Concern about being exposed to the virus at work
  • Managing a changeable workload
  • Adapting to a different workspace or schedule
  • Lack of access to tools needed to perform the job
  • Uncertainty about the future of one's employment

Common sense tells us that if we can avoid adding to these daily stressors, then we can reduce the cumulative amount of stress and risk for COVID fatigue in our teams. To ensure appropriate precautions are in place, here are some steps you can take:

  • Try to keep workloads even for all team members
  • Keep schedules as consistent as possible
  • Keep inventory stocked and equipment in working condition
  • Make a point of letting your employees know that the practice is doing well and that their contributions matter

Ask for input, too. Find out what would make your team feel safer and more stable at work. This fosters feelings of co-ownership and community, counteracting the disillusionment and loneliness that can come with COVID fatigue.

Promote Healthy Habits and Lead by Example

While getting sleep and eating healthy are important, experts agree that exercise is the best way to prevent or counteract the effects of COVID fatigue. UC Davis health psychologist Kaye Hermanson says, "Any exercise — even a simple walk — helps. It releases endorphins, gets some of the adrenaline out when the frustration builds up."

Encourage your team to go for a walk at lunch, practice breathing exercises in between appointments, and stretch throughout the day. Better yet, lead by example and let your team know what you are doing to maintain your own well-being during this time of uncertainty and disruption. Hold a team meeting or create a bulletin board where people can share their strategies for finding inner peace and balance.

Infuse Fun

What can you do to keep it light at work when the outside world is so heavy? Have fun! Studies show that fun at work boosts productivity and morale. As leaders, we often think we have to do something big to make a positive impact on our employees, but focusing on little things can bring just as much joy. For example, designate a different person each day to choose the music station, order out lunch for the team one day a week, engage your team in choosing a monthly "theme" day for dressing up, or add some flare to the hospital decor.

If you're feeling fatigued and need some inspiration, check out this article by Arbee Associates, a third generation, woman-owned business specializing in the optimization of space and human performance.

While we know more than we did a year ago, many uncertainties remain around COVID and how long we will be dealing with the pandemic. Acknowledging the difficulty, frustration, and sadness of our current situation is important and keeps us authentic in the eyes of our team. But, dwelling on the negative doesn't make our days any easier and only serves to wear down our nervous systems. If we can slow down, approach ourselves and others with compassion, and develop habits that support adaptation to changing circumstances, our veterinary teams will arrive every day to a fresh, healthy workspace.

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Nell Ostermeier

Dr. Nell is an integrative veterinarian who combines modern medicine with complementary modalities to get the best results for her patients. She has enjoyed a diverse career since graduating from the University of Illinois in 2004. Her roles have included: practice owner, associate, relief vet, and instructor. In 2017, Nell founded People + Pet Integrative Therapies, a virtual business aimed at both pet parents and vets. Her mission is to make integrative healthcare accessible to pets across the world while increasing happiness in the veterinary field. She loves the outdoors and travel.

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