COVID Fatigue Unites Business Owners


Dealing with  COVID fatigue unites business owners. If that sounds strange to you, let me make my case. I’m not doing this to whine, but I want business owners who don’t have an existing support structure to know that they aren’t alone.

I facilitate several peer groups of business owners. For decades, we’ve met monthly to discuss trends and issues in our businesses. It is typically a lively roundtable. Hiring, termination, customers, vendors, regulation, new initiatives, and finances present themselves at most, if not all meetings.

The First Wave

At the beginning of the pandemic, we increased our meeting frequency from monthly to weekly. It really helped with the news pummeling us every day. First, we had sanitation and control of infection. What should we do if an employee was diagnosed? What were the guidelines, or more accurately, the current guidelines regarding quarantine? How serious was this? Opinions ranged widely on the severity and need for action.

COVID FatigueThen came the lockdowns. Who decided that this was within the power of a mayor? Like so many regulations, it seemed to come without any discussion of the impact on small businesses. We never “blamed” the medical community. They were told to recommend the best way to slow the virus’ spread. They did.

Our meetings became both strained and strange. We started living in two worlds. Some businesses were decimated, others were setting sales and profit records.

The Light in the Tunnel

Then came the relief bills. How did FFCRA work? Who has the poster? Will our employees all choose to go home at 2/3 pay? (Not very many did.) We traded policies and memos from HR advisors, CPAs, and law firms.

Then the CARES act. BAM! $2 trillion flushed through the economy like a transfusion. We didn’t talk much about EIDL. The need to pay it back from PPP proceeds and running out of money early on focused us all on the Paycheck Protection Program. Of the 28 participants in the groups (myself included,) all 28 applied for and received PPP funds. We all shared application information and intelligence on which banks were handling it best.

Again, we had concerns that the $600 unemployment bonus would dry up the recruiting market. It made things a bit more challenging, but not insurmountable. Most folks seem to prefer continuing employment. People who seek to milk the benefits to the last dollar aren’t the ones we wanted anyway. Of course, watching the collapse of the antiquated government infrastructure for unemployment may have influenced applicants as well.

We traded information on remote working. How to keep employees engaged? Tips on contests, productivity tracking, and virtual technology. Those in essential industries never stopped working (see my post on Morlocks and Eloi.) Some found that remote workers had no desire to return to the office, and began looking at reducing their commitments for leased space. Others went back as soon as they could.

As we progressed into June, we basked in the belief that we had dodged the bullet. Our region (South Texas) had among the lowest in infection rates in the US. Many of us applauded the governor’s early, but seemingly sensibly staged reopening. We cut back to one “touch-base” meeting midway between our usual monthly half-day sessions.

The New Normal – Not

We were fed up with COVID fatigue. Discussions turned to new initiatives, how to best utilize the PPP money (for those who didn’t need all of it just to stay alive,) loan forgiveness, and how to deal with the “new normal.”

There is an old saying. “Man plans and God laughs.” No sooner did we start to draw a collective breath than we were hit with the results of Memorial Day. It seemed that the entire population under 40 decided the crisis was over. Our county went from the least infected major metropolitan area in the nation to one of the 5 worst in a few weeks. The tone of the meetings became somber again.

We weren’t dealing with a short-term crisis, nor with a new normal. It was just getting worse each day. One member with a small retail chain has seen more holdups in 90 days than in the last 5 years. Those with school-aged children, or employees who have children, are at a loss on how to deal with the school issues. (my post on school return) Many of us who had no direct experience with COVID now know people who were very ill, or who died.

New problems keep popping up. One member who spent a weekend getting emergency plumbing done in his offices (due to flushing of disinfecting wipes) called COVID “The gift that keeps on giving.”

COVID Fatigue

Now we are living in Bill Murray’s “Groundhog Day.” We keep trying to talk about non-COVID related issues, but there aren’t any. Hiring, attendance. productivity, communications, customers, supply lines, shortages, backlogs. All this has to be considered in light of the damn virus.

COVID Fatigue 2We are all gun shy with COVID fatigue. Every issue surmounted may come back. It may take on a new aspect, or pop up when or where it is unexpected. No one wants to say “We’ve got this.” At best we say “We’ve got this so far.”

As business owners we expect more control over our environment. That’s why we are business owners. Instead, we keep fixing a problem only to face the next one. They aren’t unique. They are serial manifestations of the same root cause.

We are fed up with the lack of direction or plan. Cities sue states (with our tax money.) States sue the Federal Government (with our tax money.) Protestors march, and sometimes riot. Frankly, if I was watching all this from a home from which I feared being evicted and weeks or months without an unemployment check. I’d probably be in the streets too.

Quoting the Temptation’s Ball of Confusion, “And the band played on”. At the end of every conversation, we have to go back to running our businesses. We have to show a strong face for our employees. We have to overcome or circumnavigate the challenges, even though we know that the solutions will be temporary.

It’s what we do. If you are doing it alone, find someone who understands the burden. I can assure you, dealing with COVID fatigue is a bit easier when you share with people who know what you are dealing with.

There really is strength in numbers. All too often, business owners assume they have to go it alone.

Updated: Mar 20, 2024

About the author
John Dini of The Exit Planning Coach is a member of XPX San Antonio

I have owned companies in manufacturing, distribution and services, along with well over 10,000 hours of coaching business owners. I will understand your business and your objectives.