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Office buildings in in Toronto’s Financial District, on Feb. 11, 2021.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

We have said it ourselves and heard it from others: “I’m done.” From relationships to jobs to anything that we are getting tired of. “I’m done” indicates final, finished, no longer caring and moving on.

The phrase tends to be used when we feel our efforts are not being rewarded, or even noticed. These days, for me and those I talk to, it’s usually about fatigue related to COVID-19 and its restrictions. It can feel especially defeating when we aren’t seeing a change in broad social behaviors or the current outcome, even as we continue to miss having private gatherings with friends and family and hugging and all that seemingly bad human contact stuff that we are naturally craving.

How does this feeling affect the workplace?

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First, it’s recognition that the longer it goes on, the pandemic remains a distinct strain on our mental health and overall wellbeing. We know the pandemic has been the public health crisis of the century, and the mental health challenges are well documented in terms of driving up rates of depression, stress and many other negative trends within individuals and families.

It’s not coincidental that you’re hearing commercials about taking a “dry day” here and there as unhealthy use of alcohol and cannabis is rising. As leaders and as colleagues, we need to stay vigilant about helping others cope. If a colleague needs help, make sure they reach out to your employee and family assistance provider or other public agencies to get it.

Second, our collective personal actions affect any return-to-work plans. All those COVID restrictions we’re tired of can make a difference and eventually lead to lessening restrictions, including opening workplaces. Others are free to disagree, but I’m a firm believer that interaction in the physical workplace is a core part of building morale and defining the culture of a company. While some aspects of these can be done through remote working, I think both are harder to achieve through exclusively online interactions.

For most provinces, getting everyone back to the workplace is the final stage of a reopening plan, but for many it can’t come soon enough. While some may still be comfortable commuting to work in the home office in their pajamas, that does nothing to help all the businesses that depend on the economy’s daily workforce traffic: the coffee shops, restaurants and myriad small businesses who don’t have that luxury. Already, too many are being forced to close their doors forever.

While we’re waiting for our turns to get vaccinated and for our efforts to have an affect on the pandemic, there are some things we can do together to try and mitigate the “I’m done” fatigue.

Encourage employees to have weekly or bi-weekly end of day social time. Get people to bring their favorite beverage (no judgments on what!) and have talks that are anything but work-related. Kind of like the old days when we used to get together after work and just gab. I know, the last thing anyone wants right now is another video call, but it serves the basic purpose. If you want something more unique, there are several interesting alternatives emerging in terms of virtual event spaces that feel inherently more social and encourage interaction.

Leaders and colleagues can also encourage setting up regular virtual coffee meetings between team members, or even across the business on a wider scale. These give people a more private opportunity to talk about their day-to-day challenges and can be more approachable for those who tend to be shy in a larger social setting.

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Finally, it’s critical at this point for leaders to be regularly checking in with their people in a one-to-one setting. I know from personal experience that this is one of the tougher parts of leadership, but it is one of the most important things you do in your role: take care of your people. The regular check-in is the place where you’re going to see and hear the most about how the individual is doing and it is not to be missed or deferred.

In sum, it’s safe to say that few are wanting another year of COVID-related restrictions. We’re all done in one way or another, and it’s time for us to make the final push to stay compliant and ride it out until vaccination day.

Eileen Dooley is a talent and leadership development specialist, and a leadership coach, based in Calgary Alberta

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