Oregon Mask Requirements and Combatting Employee Burnout

Feb 18, 2022

With the impending expiration of the Oregon temporary indoor mask requirement, there are a lot of questions about what’s next. Our aim here is to outline what this means for businesses as well as what you can do to continue to keep up employee morale and decrease burnout.


The Technicalities Behind the Oregon Indoor Mask Requirements 

While the state’s indoor mask temporary mandate expired on February 8, 2022, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) filed a new rule to replace this one. This new rule was intended to extend the current ruling to continue to require masks in indoor public spaces.


This new rule, while it extends mask requirements, shouldn’t be around forever. Once state health officials decide that our healthcare system has recovered and we’re past the recent Omicron surge, the mandate will be lifted.


State health officials recommend that Oregon keep its mask requirements for now, “as COVID-19 hospitalizations crest and Oregon’s health care system strains to treat high numbers of severely ill patients.


Dean Sidelinger, M.D., health officer, and state epidemiologist says that “we should see COVID-19 hospitalizations drop by the end of March because so many Oregonians are wearing masks and taking other steps to protect themselves and each other, such as getting a booster shot or vaccinating their children. At that point, it will be safer to lift mask requirements.


For now, the OHA plans to lift the indoor mask requirements no later than March 31, 2022. If hospitalizations and cases drop quicker than projected, it could be sooner than the end of March.

What does this mean for businesses?

Once the mask requirements are lifted, the OHA states that employers and businesses can decide to establish their own mask requirements to continue to protect employees and customers.


It’s important that when you’re deciding what to do next, you take into consideration the asks of your frontline employees who have worked so hard throughout this entire pandemic.


Unfortunately, compassion fatigue and burnout are more prevalent than ever. A New York Times study of therapists found that “a dramatically increasing number of Americans are burned out, stressed, anxious, depressed, lonely, isolated, and mentally and emotionally at the end of their rope.”


Those who work on the frontlines, whether that be healthcare workers, teachers, HR personnel, or social workers, have been and continue to be hit hard.


The concepts of burnout and compassion fatigue pertain to anyone, though – not just frontline workers. Having to keep your professional “game face” on when you’re so emotionally drained or burnt out, isn’t easy.


While COVID cases and hospitalizations should begin to decrease, we’ve still all experienced SO much uncertainty over the past few years – shutdowns, re-opening, businesses closing. The moral of the story is that businesses should decide carefully on how to proceed and manage high levels of uncertainty.


If you decide to implement mask requirements, be sure to offer alternative solutions to those who may not want to comply. This could include work-from-home arrangements or frequent testing to ensure everyone is safe.


Be sure to always have a backup plan in case any employees fall ill due to COVID or the state decides to file another mask requirement rule.


Approach implementing (or not implementing) any mask requirements with compassion and transparency. Be willing to have difficult conversations and take feedback from your employees to make the most educated decision for your business.

Beyond Masks: Managing Employee Burnout, Uncertainty, and Compassion Fatigue

While it’s important to closely evaluate if and how to implement any mask requirements after the current rule expires, there are some things beyond masks to also consider. 

Here are some tips to work to manage burnout, uncertainty, and compassion fatigue in your employees:

  1. Talk to your employees to find the sources of burnout or emotional exhaustion. By doing so, you can work to resolve and reduce the things that are causing these negative feelings.
  2. Make some changes to team design. Teams should be made up of people who have varying skills and skill levels to take the load off any overworked employees. 
  3. Recenter your organizational culture. Normalize well-being activities and conversations surrounding burnout to emphasize a culture of compassion and empathy. Get input on employees’ preferences on flexible scheduling, work-from-home, or a hybrid work arrangement. See if it’s possible to implement flexible time off for illnesses or mental health needs.
  4. Offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) which will provide a plethora of employee support resources such as mental health services, hotlines, child care assistance, and more. Be sure to frequently remind employees of this benefit to ensure they’re taking full advantage of resources available to them.
  5. Facilitate frequent check-ins with employees. It’s important to always be listening and learning about their evolving needs. Realistically, you won’t be able to please everyone, but you may be able to make some helpful adjustments to satisfy a common ask. The more communication that happens, the better you’ll be able to take care of your employees throughout difficult times and uncertainty.   


Ever-changing state indoor mask requirements can be difficult to continue to deal with as managers and business owners. That’s why HR Annie is here to help you through this! We can support creating new mask policies and facilitating conversations to combat employee burnout.

Wanting to also offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to your employees? HR Annie has had a long-standing partnership with Canopy for all of our EAP needs, as well as offering a discounted EAP rate to our clients. Reach out to us to learn more about offering our exclusive EAP rates to your team!


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