As employers, we need to be invested in the health of our employees. They are the very lifeblood of our organizations and nothing would get done without them. Their physical and emotional health is tied directly to productivity. What’s more, their well-being is our moral responsibility. That’s why today we’re taking a look at a common plight for workers across industries, from blue-collar to white-collar: Fatigue.
Why is it Important to Watch for Fatigue?
Workplace fatigue is remarkably common in the modern workplace and it stems from many sources. It is mostly associated with workers with nonstandard schedules that disrupt their natural sleep cycle, such as the night shift. However, fatigue is also caused by extended hours, stress, and physically or mentally demanding tasks. According to the CDC and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, fatigue can lead to slowed-down reaction time, reduced concentration, limited short-term memory, and impaired judgment. Naturally, that is why 82 percent of all employers consider fatigue a safety issue. Heavily fatigued workers can lead to accidents and serious mistakes that put everyone in your workplace in jeopardy as a whole. What’s more, if fatigue is left unaddressed for too long, it can lead to significantly worse health problems and high-turnover rates from burnout.
What are the Signs of Fatigue in Employees?
The first step to combatting fatigue in the workplace is recognizing the signs. Fatigue can affect everyone and surfaces in different ways. The symptoms will range from mild to severe, occasional to chronic. That’s why it’s so easy to miss. However, there are some common fatigue symptoms that you can watch for.
Here’s what you should watch for:
- Reduced Awareness
- Slowed Reaction Times
- Difficulty staying awake
- Impaired judgment
- Loss of drive
- Decreased Performance
These are only a few of the symptoms. Once again, it’s different from person to person. However, an attentive manager can easily learn the spectrum of fatigue symptoms and take steps to address the problem before it escalates. But more importantly, we should take steps to prevent fatigue in the first place.
How to Proactively Mitigate Workplace Fatigue
How you combat fatigue in the workplace will depend on your industry. However, here are some tips for preventing fatigue that crosses industry lines.
Preventing fatigue starts from the top down. That means you need to start with leadership. From the C-suite to line managers, you need to stress the risks of fatigue and how your company intends to address them. Start by ingraining fatigue-conscious into your workplace safety culture and training. Pass this understanding down to employees. Ensure they know the importance of sleep and the risks of fatigue. You can do this through in-person and online training programs focused primarily on fatigue. Additionally, consider implementing sleep disorder screening programs for your employees as well as making sleep a part of corporate wellness plans. Understanding fatigue, its sources, and its solutions are key to protecting your employees from burnout.
Optimize Work Schedules
As we mentioned before, fatigue is primarily caused by irregular work schedules. Employees that frequently rotate schedules or do regular nightshift work are particularly at risk for fatigue. As such, scheduling is one of your best tools to avoid fatigue.
When making schedules:
- Avoid permanent night-shift schedules when possible
- Provide adequate recovery time between shifts (OSHA recommends at least 8 hours of rest between 8-hour shifts)
- Avoid long shifts if at all possible (No longer than 12)
- Establish predictable schedules
One of the best ways to prevent employee fatigue while on the job is to encourage breaks, especially after a challenging task. Breaks provide employees with a chance to rest and recover from their work. In fact, research from UCL indicates that regular breaks reduce stress, improve health, and boosts performance. Consequently, this ultimately reduces fatigue. Ensure that your dedicated break areas are comfortable and allow employees space from their work.
Regular Employee Health Checks
Health checks don’t only help with fatigue, but benefit the overall health of your workforce. This in turn also improves productivity. Ideally, these checks should provide employees an opportunity to discuss their health without fear of criticism. That last part is particularly important. We live in a culture today where concerns around fatigue or mental health can be seen as complaining. As such, employees need this opportunity to voice concerns about their health and workplace without fear of being seen as lazy. Communication is key to protecting employee health.
Fatigue, regardless of its cause, is a serious risk in the workplace. If left unchecked, you will see higher turnover rates and more work-related accidents. And no one wants that.
That’s why you need to address fatigue today and create a safer workplace tomorrow.