Andrea Bazzoli, M.S., Washington State University Vancouver; Tahira M. Probst, Ph.D., Washington State University Vancouver; Erica L. Bettac, M.S., Washington State University Vancouver; Melissa R. Jenkins, M.S., Washington State University Vancouver; Hyun Jung Lee, M.S., Washington State University Vancouver

We examined the extent to which enacting COVID-19 preventative behaviors resulted in higher levels of COVID-19 fatigue, and subsequently impaired mental health and job performance. Furthermore, we tested whether the workplace COVID-19 safety climate would attenuate the development of COVID fatigue (i.e., would moderate the first leg of the mediation.)

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control developed a set of recommended preventative behaviors for individuals to follow in public settings, including the workplace, in order to prevent transmission of the novel coronavirus. Drawing from the job demands-resources model, we conceptualize the enactment of CDC-recommended preventative behaviors as a job demand that employees need to tend to in addition to pre-existing job demands (e.g., production targets, general safety requirements, time pressure.) Attending to these new COVID-related demands lead to feelings of exhaustion, which scholars have dubbed as COIVD-19 fatigue. We define this construct as a tendency to grow tired of the rules and guidance needed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In turn, higher levels of COVID-19 fatigue are posited to adversely impact employees’ performance and mental health through a health impairment process. However, we theorize that COVID-19 safety climate, defined as employees’ perceptions related to their employer’s enactment of policies, procedures, and practices for preventing the spread of COVID-19, can moderate the negative relationship between enactment of preventative behaviors and fatigue. These strategies will enable employees to cope with job demands by providing supportive practices and resources that make the enactment of CDC-recommended behaviors less burdensome (e.g., designing jobs in a way that facilitates physical separation between employees). Additionally, these interventions add a further layer of protection against COVID-19 at the organizational level, instead of relying only on individual compliance.

We tested our model using a longitudinal dataset of 186 U.S. employees that were working on-site during the pandemic. Most of the participants were male (62%), White (75%) and on a company’s payroll (97%; i.e., received a W-2 form from their employer). 62% of the participants self-identified as an “essential worker.” 18% of them were employed in retail services, 12% in healthcare, 10% in manufacturing, and 9% in accommodation and food service industries. We estimated the model using a Bayesian estimator for three substantive reasons: (i) we were able to effectively incorporate previous organizational knowledge by means of specifying the prior distributions’ parameters, (ii) we mitigated concerns about sample size, as Bayesian techniques are less reliant on large sample size, and (iii) Bayesian estimators outperform ML estimators in handling nonnormal parameters (i.e., indirect effects.)

We found that higher enactment of the CDC recommended behaviors was not associated with subsequently higher COVID-19 fatigue at average levels of COVID-19 safety climate (posterior distribution median = 0.31, 95% CI [-0.11, 0.73]). However, fatigue predicted lower performance (posterior distribution median = -0.06, 95% CI [-0.10, -0.03]) after controlling for previous levels of performance and management commitment to safety. This model, however, was conditional on the level of COVID-19 safety climate (posterior distribution median = -0.29, 95% CI [-0.55, -0.03]), such that the indirect effect of compliance with the CDC-recommended behaviors on performance via COVID-19 fatigue was lower when the COVID-19 safety climate was more positive. On the other hand, the relationship between COVID-19 fatigue and mental health appeared null in the population (posterior distribution median = -0.03, 95% CI [-0.08, 0.03]).

The apparent beneficial impact of working within a positive organizational climate that is supportive of COVID-19 prevention efforts is encouraging. Although public health messaging regarding preventative health behaviors has clear implications for reducing transmission of the novel coronavirus, the current research suggests that enactment of these behaviors takes a toll over time on employees working onsite. Given these results, it is important for public health officials and employers to recognize the additional demands placed upon workers during the pandemic and the potential unintended effects that these demands may have on downstream work-related outcomes as a function of heightened COVID-19 fatigue, as well as other correlates of these outcomes. Moreover, while these organizational actions have positive impacts for employees, they are also beneficial to organizations in the long-term via higher levels of employee performance and presumably reduced risk of COVID-19 transmission.

While we believe our study makes significant contributions to the literature, there are some limitations that should be acknowledged and future directions to pursue. First, our sample size is somewhat small and future research should endeavor to obtain a larger sample of onsite workers. Moreover, because we relied on a convenience sample, we cannot make claims as to the generalizability of our findings to the broader U.S. workforce and replication of our effects is warranted. Last, other outcomes (e.g., absenteeism, turnover) have been documented in relation to fatigue. Inclusion of these related variables as well additional outcomes would be fruitful directions for additional research.

Tags: Applicable to all occupations/industries, Applied research, COVID-19, Empirical study, Hazardous Work Environments and Safety, High Risk Jobs; Vulnerable/At-Risk Populations, Organization- and Job-Level Environments and Practices, Organizational Practices, Psychological and Biological Effects of Job Stress, Safety Climate; Safety Management; and Training, Workplace Stress; Outcomes; and Recovery