A new variant is spreading, but leaders and workers alike appear too exhausted to face another health crisis. How to handle an issue no one wants to hear about.

The headlines are barely reaching the home pages of most websites. But they can sound unsettling: New variant is spreading quickly and may soon pick up speed . . .  A  “stealth” coronavirus is on the rise. . . Another wave is likely.

The new virus is known as variant BA.2, and studies show it’s 50% more contagious than Omicron. Some scientists believe it may be a deadlier variant too. Yet corporate experts agree that it would be highly difficult now to get employees and managers charged up to deal with any major health issue. Indeed, communicating any necessary steps may become the next big challenge at firms should the variant cause a surge in infections. “A lot of people will keep wearing a mask and do what they’re required to do, but they aren’t following the details anymore,” says Nathan Blain, global lead for People Cost Optimization at Korn Ferry. As he sees it, most employees would really prefer not to talk about COVID. Or think about it. Or hear about it. “Everybody’s tired,” Blain says.

To be sure, despite the scary prospect of the new variant, most experts believe it won’t create as large a wave as past ones, given vaccination rates and the immunity the public has developed. That said, experts say that updating is non-optional on matters of employee health. “Companies have an obligation to communicate,” says Ron Porter, senior client partner in Korn Ferry’s global human resources center of excellence. “If you don’t, you run the risk of being sued.”

Capturing people’s attention will be the challenge. Early in the pandemic, companies felt a responsibility to constantly inform employees about the pandemic. Information changed daily, with entire staffs following the announcements on their phones hourly. Lives were on the line. “Overcommunication was necessary to mitigate that fear,” says Angela Henry, sector leader for health systems and academic medicine at Korn Ferry. The key, says Henry, is to frame all information in terms of how it impacts the employee. “Get to the point quicker, and stop flooding in-boxes with everything else,” she says. “Then you have your audience’s attention.” This may require different notices targeted to different groups of employees—and fewer of them.

All of which is a major shift in pandemic communications tactics, though that’s appropriate given the new phase of the pandemic. “Employees just need to hear from you about what something means personally, for them,” says Greg Button, president of Global Healthcare Services at Korn Ferry. He suggests focusing on what’s changed, which is a good litmus test for employee interest. “The only way to get people’s attention is to talk about what’s different,” he says.