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Diagnosing coronavirus fatigue: How small employers are treating rising cases of “COVID fatigue”

Jan 20, 2021
Empower Institute

While COVID-19 continues to spread across the U.S., there’s another ailment that is starting to pick up steam.1

It’s called “COVID fatigue.”

And, after further evaluation, it doesn’t appear that the condition is going away anytime soon for working Americans.

Recently, representatives from Empower Retirement met virtually with four valued partners from the small-market space to see how businesses are adapting to the “new normal” amid the global outbreak. As Empower intelligence shows, plan sponsors are providing a heavy dose of impactful solutions to help treat employees suffering from COVID fatigue. Most notably, they’re providing care, compassion and collaboration.

Key findings include:

  • For employees, major changes include working from home, utilizing video technology and juggling a hybrid schedule.
  • While COVID fatigue symptoms vary, financial uncertainty, information overload and lack of social activity top the list.
  • Clients are utilizing a variety of communication methods to help relieve COVID fatigue.
  • Smaller companies have adopted the retirement-related provisions in the CARES Act, but activity remains low.
  • Empower is helping plan sponsors fight COVID fatigue by providing education and advice.

So, what is COVID fatigue?

In short, people are growing tired of having their routines turned upside down due to the current pandemic.

Whether it’s a result of being stuck inside, missing out on in-person interactions or adhering to mandated safety protocols, COVID fatigue can cause a long list of serious complications. Anxiety, stress and irritation are common symptoms, with other aches and pains making it difficult to stay focused throughout the day. Some individuals are even struggling to eat and sleep on a regular basis. According to one medical professional, “The slow-moving game of viral roulette is wearing on everyone.”2,3

In 2020, many employees also had to adjust to an unorthodox workday for the first time in their careers. Significant changes included working remotely, utilizing video software and juggling their children’s hybrid school schedules. But, when possible, employers stepped up to help those who needed extra support, especially parents. 

“If they need to watch over their children or help out with their kids’ schooling for an hour or two, we’re mindful of that,” said a human resources director from a small structural engineering firm. “They can log on in the evenings to make up that time during the pay period. Flexibility is evolving on a natural basis.

“We’re constantly looking for ways to be more creative.”4

In addition, as detailed in the Empower Institute “How COVID-19 is affecting smaller employers’ retirement plans” research paper, coronavirus money headaches as a result of COVID fatigue are mounting, too. Worrying about potential budget cuts, job layoffs and decreased wages has led to more discomfort. 

But there is a good news for those feeling blue.

While the COVID-19 crisis has been a bitter pill to swallow for many working Americans, Empower has learned that smaller entities are doing their part to help their employees move forward on a path to a full recovery.

Covid-19 fatigue, research paper download

Download research paper

1 The New York Times, “Covid-19: U.S. Breaks Daily Record With Over 99,000 New Cases as Surge Quickens,” October 2020.

2 UC Davis Health, “’COVID fatigue is hitting hard. Fighting it is hard, too, says UC Davis Health psychologist,” July 2020.

3 Cleveland Clinic, “Are You Experiencing Coronavirus Quarantine Fatigue?” May 2020.

4 Empower Retirement, “A clean bill of health: How small employers are treating cases of “COVID fatigue,” January 2021.

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