One of the most overlooked hazards lurking in most businesses today is workplace fatigue. It contributes to over $136 billion in healthcare costs annually for US employers from loss of productivity, increased absences, and fatigue-related medical claims.
As an employer, the first step to tackling workplace fatigue is to understand the various facets of this condition. Only then can you create a strategy that isolates the exact causes of fatigue in your company and address them.
The Two Types of Workplace Fatigue
Workplace fatigue can generally be categorized into two types: acute or chronic. Acute fatigue is caused by short-term sleep deficiency or brief periods of intense physical or mental activity. The good thing about this is that it can be reversed by sleep and relaxation.
With chronic fatigue, a worker constantly experiences a state of weariness, which cannot be relieved through sleep. In this post, I’ll explain the main causes of workplace fatigue and recommend strategies for dealing with this rampant problem.
Causes of Workplace Fatigue
Lack of Enough Sleep
The National Sleep Foundation recommends getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Sadly, studies have shown that only 10% of American adults make sleep a priority. For many, other aspects such as work, social life, and personal interests matter more than getting sufficient sleep.
Nighttime Work Schedules
Although this is tied to the first factor, the National Safety Council has identified it as a distinct cause of workplace fatigue.
Ideally, our bodies are programmed to work during the day and rest at night. But this is not the case for many Americans who work night shifts stay up late often trying to finish work projects. By doing so, they work counter to the body’s internal clock, which in turn causes sleep disorders and fatigue.
Studies have shown that just losing two hours of sleep creates similar mental impairment as having 3 beers, which puts the safety of both the fatigued worker and the people around them at risk.
Another likely cause of fatigue is the work environment, such as indoor air pollution. With most Americans spending up to 90% of their time indoors, it is no wonder that they’re the most susceptible to this risk.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there are two main reasons for the rise in indoor air pollutants. One, the increased use of synthetic building materials and two, using energy-inefficient construction techniques that hamper proper ventilation.
The result is that workers are constantly exposed to pollutants, and this leads to several health effects such as fatigue.
Fighting Workplace Fatigue
Get More Sleep
One of the primary causes of fatigue is lack of sleep. Thus, it goes without saying that getting enough sleep is the easiest way to combat workplace fatigue.
Encourage employees to establish healthy bedtime rituals that improve the quality and quantity of sleep. These include:
- Putting the phone away- research has shown that the light emitted by phones and similar electronics makes it harder for you to fall asleep
- Drinking more water and less caffeine – caffeinated drinks have also been found to reduce the quality of sleep.
- Doing a relaxing activity like meditating or reading.
Adopt a Fatigue Risk Management System
One of the most effective solutions to combat workplace fatigue is to implement a fatigue risk management system (FMRS).
In summary, the elements that should be included in the FMRS system are:
- Setting up a fatigue management policy- this should include limiting the number of hours that employees can work for.
- Collecting data regarding fatigue as a workplace hazard, analyzing its risk and instigating measures to reduce it
- Investigating fatigue-related incidents
- Fatigue management training and mobilization for both the employees and their families
- Coming up with an auditing process that provides corrective measures through a continuous improvement process
To combat the exhaustion that’s brought about by working for long hours, employers should give their staff enough time to rest or even take short naps.
In fact, they should design their workplaces in such a way that employees find it easy to relax during their breaks. This can be achieved by incorporating recreational rooms and pantries where workers can eat and drink during their breaks.
If a group of employees has to work during the night, then there should be areas where they can take occasional naps.
Improve Indoor Air
Sometimes, all it takes is improving factors in your work environment to reduce the risk of fatigue. As identified earlier, one of the most probable work-related causes is indoor air pollution. The EPA recommends the following strategies to improve the quality of indoor air:
- Implementing a smoking policy to shield non-smokers from the secondary effects of smoking
- Cultivating a good working relationship with those in charge of indoor environmental issues
- Prohibiting the use of products that can increase indoor air pollutants
- Working with the building management to prevent the use of pest control methods that cause air pollution
- Advocating for the establishment of a preventive indoor air quality management program
While this may seem counter-intuitive, a recent study has proven that exercising can help to reduce workplace fatigue. Roger Adams, who is a fitness expert, explains that leading a sedentary lifestyle leads to low energy production, which is why you feel weary and fatigued all the time.
When you exercise, you get your body to increase energy production, which in turn, keeps you vitalized throughout the day.
Fatigue is a common complaint among individuals who work for extended periods. Studies have shown that more people are getting less sleep- a factor that has led to increased exhaustion.
Other likely causes of fatigue, as identified by the National Safety Council are poor work schedules and increased air pollution.
Thankfully, there are a few things that both employers and employees can do to fight workplace fatigue. These include implementing a fatigue risk management system, improving the quality of air indoors, setting regular breaks and getting enough sleep. All these measures should be part of a company’s wellness program to create alert, happy, and productive employees.