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Fatigue management in the workplace: 4 prevention tactics
There was one point in my life when I was working three jobs while going to school.
I was an intern at a PR firm, babysitting, and waitressing at a restaurant and bar at night. By the time I showed up for my evening shift at the restaurant, I’d need to down a couple of cups of coffee to keep my energy going. At one point, I asked myself: Why am I so tired all the time?
On these days when I worked long hours in addition to class, I noticed something about my fatigue levels affected my work. I would make more mistakes putting in orders or I’d forget to do a task at my office job. While I’m grateful that I’m no longer in a position where I need to work multiple jobs, it taught me one thing: fatigue in the workplace is real. It’s not always long work hours or night shifts, either.
According to the National Safety Council (NSC), more than 69% of workers have experienced fatigue at work. It’s important to manage your fatigue well (for both employees and employers) to stay safe, satisfied, and engaged.
BetterUp Labs studied fatigue and burnout in the workplace. The results? From a sample of about 5,000 employees, we found that 31% of employees felt both motivated to do their best and burned out by their work.
Let’s talk about fatigue management in the workplace and the effects of fatigue on your work environment. We’ll also discuss ways to prevent fatigue in the workplace.
What is fatigue management?
To understand workplace fatigue, let’s talk about how we would define fatigue in the first place. Worker fatigue can be defined as a feeling of sleepiness, tiredness, or lack of energy while at work. Fatigue is a health and safety issue as well as an employee well-being issue.
Research shows fatigue can be attributed to workplace injuries. In fact, 13% of workplace injuries are a result of workplace fatigue.
Fatigue doesn’t come in a one-size-fits-all box. Sometimes, mental exhaustion is just as (if not more) taxing than physical exhaustion. Fatigue can be a lack of sleep or sleep deprivation and long work hours. But it can also look like an increase in burnout or absenteeism.
Fatigue management is the act of addressing fatigue through methods, tactics, or programs. It’s the approach a person or organization takes to mitigate the negative effects of fatigue.
What does fatigue management in the workplace look like?
So, what does fatigue management look like in action? Here are just a few examples of how some employees and employers address fatigue:
- Good sleep hygiene. A lot of fatigue boils down to one thing: sleep (or lack thereof). Sleep loss is a problem. We know that many employees don’t get enough sleep or get enough restorative sleep.
But one way to help manage fatigue is by implementing healthy sleep cycles. Insufficient sleep is not going to help any person overcome the impact of fatigue.
- Well-staffed team. For employers, it’s important to help manage fatigue by meeting your staffing needs. A well-staffed team can help address gaps in workload that might cause workers to pick up additional slack. A poorly staffed team can lead to long work schedules, cutting into valuable rest and recuperation time.
- Established safety management practices. Of course, there are laws and regulations to protect the occupational health of workers. A good fatigue management practice is to make sure your organization is eliminating all risk factors associated with fatigue.
This means keeping up-to-date on new laws and implementing workplace safety strategies.
- A reasonable number of hours for shift work. If your organization has hourly, shift-work schedules, it’s important to maintain reasonable hours. Just as important is to provide fair and thriving wages, especially for shift workers. This helps mitigate workers from taking on too many hours to make ends meet.
- Accommodations for medical conditions. Some people live with sleep disorders. Others might have chronic illnesses or pain. Still, others live with diagnoses that can cause or exacerbate fatigue.
For employers, work with your HR and legal teams to make sure you’re accommodating disabilities in the workplace. For employees, advocate for your health and well-being.
- Encouragement to care for employee mental health and well-being. Regardless of any medical conditions, employee health and well-being are critical for all organizations. After all, fatigue can exacerbate existing anxiety and depression conditions.
Some companies have employee wellness programs that promote sleep hygiene, nutrition, and mental fitness. Others might have things like employee assistance programs or other mental health supports. In what ways are you encouraging your employees to take care of themselves?
4 problems with fatigue management in the workplace
Without proper fatigue management in the workplace, you risk running into some of these four problems.
Safety and health risk
The first and most obvious problems with fatigue are physical safety and health concerns. Fatigue in the workplace can be dangerous — and deadly. According to the US Department of Labor, the risks of fatigue are great.
During night shifts, accident and injury rates are 30% greater compared to day shifts. Research also shows that working we hours per day can increase injury by 37%.
Beyond injury, there are long-term health risks. Below are just some of the health risks associated with fatigue that can develop:
- Heart disease
- Some cancers
- Sleep disorders
- Obesity and poor nutrition or eating habits
- Worsening chronic diseases (like diabetes or epilepsy)
We’re on the brink of a burnout crisis. We know that burnout rates are on the rise — and that poses risk to both the health of the person and the organization.
Increased burnout means decreased productivity, decreased employee engagement, and decreased work-life balance.
Physical fatigue is an obvious symptom of fatigue in the workplace. But mental fatigue is an impairment that is often overlooked yet just as important.
Mental exhaustion carries negative consequences of fatigue. For example, mentally fatigued workers can lead to decreased productivity, efficiency, and engagement. For the employee, it causes a deep brain fog that impacts overall well-being and mental fitness.
Poor organizational performance
Ultimately, these consequences of fatigue all result in poor organizational performance. One study found that fatigue in the workplace leads to a decrease in psychological empowerment. It also impacts emotional well-being, turnover, job satisfaction, and employee engagement.
4 ways to prevent fatigue in the workplace
If you’re struggling with keeping your workers happy, healthy, and well-rested, here are four ways to prevent fatigue in the workplace.
Promote work-life balance
But it also includes things like encouraging a healthy sleep culture. Oftentimes, this is a practice that is set by leaders as an example.
Let’s say that your leader is always online. They work and send emails, Slacks, and Asana updates at all hours of the day and night. Sometimes, you receive emails from them on the weekends.
What kind of message does that send your employees? What are the expectations for employees with your work-life balance? Are you supporting your managers with leadership development opportunities to be able to set healthy boundaries?
Implement employee wellness programs
Many employers have adopted well-being programs to help support employee wellness. For example, BetterUp provides every employee with $50 USD for a monthly wellness stipend. I use my stipend for yoga classes or fitness equipment. If we need to include napping into our day, it’s accepted (and encouraged).
Other companies host wellness-related events and programs, like onsite yoga classes. Some promote campaigns aligned with wellness initiatives.
One employer I worked for created a month’s worth of programming centered around breast cancer. The month of October had physical activities (like cycling classes and a 5K) for breast cancer fundraising. They brought in guest speakers and panelists to spread awareness and educate employees. They also promoted things like regular check-ups and mammograms.
How is your organization promoting wellness? What programs can you implement to help better take care of your employees? In fact, promoting wellness can help increase your overall performance.
“Fatigue makes fools of us all. It robs you of your skills and your judgment, and it blinds you to creative solutions. It's the best-conditioned athlete, not the most talented, who generally wins when the going gets tough.”
Harvey Mackay, author, businessman
Rest should be a part of every fatigue risk management system. There are plenty of types of rest, too.
Educate your employees on the importance of sleep. If your employees are operating in sleep debt, how are you empowering your employees to recover and rest? Are your employees getting the hours of sleep they need? Some employers host campaigns, programs, and initiatives tied to sleep hygiene.
For employers, rest includes making sure your employees are using their PTO (especially if your company offers unlimited PTO). What days off are you providing to your employees? How are you promoting taking breaks and practicing Inner Work®?
For employees, this means you have to get to know your boundaries. It’s OK if you need to take a day off to recuperate. If you need a mental health day, take one. Rest doesn’t always look like time off, either. If you need to take a walk in the middle of your work day, go for it.
Optimize work schedules
For employers, the way you manage your workers matters. One key fatigue risk management tactic is optimizing work schedules. According to the NSC, there are things employers can do to mitigate the risks of fatigue:
- Don’t assign permanent night-shift schedules
- Keep schedules regular and predictable for workers
- Avoid long shift lengths (no longer than 12 hours)
- Provide adequate time to rest between shifts
- Give employees a voice in how they create their schedules
- Provide frequent breaks and opportunities for rest within shifts
Take a minute to examine your scheduling practices. If you’re an employee, what autonomy do you have over your schedule? What opportunities do you have to provide feedback to better optimize your schedule? How are you prioritizing your health and mental fitness in your workplace?
Manage fatigue in the workplace
There are plenty of human factors to consider when managing fatigue in the workplace. But part of fostering a healthy, safe work environment starts with building a solid foundation of leaders and employees who prioritize what’s best for people.
BetterUp can help. With access to virtual coaching, BetterUp can help your employees prioritize their mental fitness and mental health.
Madeline is a writer, communicator, and storyteller who is passionate about using words to help drive positive change. She holds a bachelor's in English Creative Writing and Communication Studies and lives in Denver, Colorado. In her spare time, she's usually somewhere outside (preferably in the mountains) — and enjoys poetry and fiction.