As omicron cases surged across the United States in January, it became increasingly difficult for COVID-19 contact tracers to track the spread of the virus. Words like “overwhelmed” and “inundated” and “burned out” dominated the conversation among the overworked individuals tasked with reaching out to positive cases and their close contacts, among other responsibilities.
An already difficult job suddenly seemed borderline impossible, prompting schools and other organizations across the country to wonder if contact tracing could still be conducted internally.
At PubSEG, we feel your pain.
Though contact tracing is what we do, we are not immune to the burnout experienced by so many organizations during the omicron surge. Our tracing teams often felt swamped by the rising case numbers and the need to reach out to so many people in a short period of time. The pressure can seem overwhelming at times.
Fortunately, we successfully staved off that burnout and have continued to support colleges, universities, and K-12 schools around the country in their contact tracing efforts.
Here are the three main reasons we’ve been able to withstand any threats of burnout:
1. The ability to staff up quickly
Thanks to the unpredictable nature of this virus, you never know how many contact tracers you’ll need at any one time. For schools and organizations locked into a set number of tracers, this can be incredibly stressful.
PubSEG understands this unpredictability, which is why we’ve developed the ability to scale up quickly when necessary. We work with a few select staffing firms that know our employee criteria very well, so we always have a deep pool of qualified workers to draw from.
We also rely on employee referrals and personal connections. Many PubSEG team members have extensive backgrounds in public health and social work, and they’ve developed long lists of former colleagues whose skills and experience are well-suited for contact tracing. We’ve also attracted new tracers through press coverage and articles on our website. (This would be a good time to mention that if you or someone you know is interested in joining our team, give us a call!)
2. A welcoming workplace culture
“People are looking for a good work environment,” says Dawn Stolte, PubSEG’s Head of Operations. “And the culture here is better than just about any other culture out there.”
PubSEG shares its core values with its parent company, VSA Prospecting. One of those values is: “Build Up a Workplace that is Motivating, Supportive, and Fun.” For such an environment to exist, it has to start at the top.
“Valerie is someone we all admire, and that is important,” a PubSEG employee says of Valerie Schlitt, founder of both VSA and PubSEG. “She supports and believes in us all.”
That mindset trickles down to the PubSEG supervisors and team leads, who are constantly looking for ways to encourage and support their team members. That is crucial during grueling stretches like the omicron surge.
“Our team leads meet with their teams every morning, and they do things like fun little quick games to keep morale up, or daily questions to get discussions going, or ice-breakers to get to know everyone, which is very important when we’re all working remotely,” Dawn says. “We’re always looking for ways we can better support each other.”
3. An opportunity for growth
Even in non-pressure situations, there’s a potential for burnout among employees if they don’t feel appreciated or encouraged to move forward. That’s not a problem at PubSEG. As we wrote in a previous article, PubSEG is always looking for ways to grow our employees by promoting from within or expanding responsibilities. Many of our lead tracers and supervisors started out as contact tracers. Keeping our staff motivated helps them avoid succumbing to burnout.
Says one employee: “You are coached for optimal performance, and you are given the opportunity to redefine yourself and your role over time. You are not limited but encouraged to define your personal success and what that looks like to you, and that is priceless.”
Contact tracing for COVID-19 will never be easy. There will always be challenges, even in the calmest of times. But certain times are considerably more challenging than others.
With the arrival of the omicron subvariant BA.2, believed to be about 30 percent more contagious than the original omicron variant, we could be looking at another surge of cases in the near future.
It is understandable to feel like you want to collapse under the pressure during such times. We feel it, too.
But we remain committed to partnering with colleges, universities, and schools across the country to help limit the spread of COVID-19 and keep campuses and classrooms safe. And we’ll always do everything we can to honor that commitment.
If your contact tracers are feeling a little burned out, give us a call. We’d love to see how we can help.