Today’s employees often have heavier individual workloads than ever. Home life has gotten more challenging as well. As a manager or business owner, you shouldn’t ignore the exhaustion your workers likely feel as a result, or you could face a significant decline in productivity.
So, what is work fatigue and how is it different than just being tired?
If you’re tired, you might feel that way for a day or two, but it will usually resolve itself after a couple of nights of quality sleep. Work fatigue, on the other hand, is a bit more complicated.
The Mayo Clinic defines work fatigue as “unrelenting exhaustion that isn’t relieved by rest, a nearly constant state of weariness that develops over time, reducing your energy, motivation, and concentration.” NOT ENOUGH OR POOR SLEEP
If you’re just tired at work, a night or two of good sleep will usually fix the problem. But if you’re experiencing work fatigue, you won’t feel better no matter how much you sleep.
One of the most common (and obvious) causes of work fatigue is a lack of adequate sleep. Modern work schedules often force us to override our normal sleep patterns, with more than 43% of workers saying they regularly feel sleep-deprived. While we may generally wish to throw the dirt on “just work” as the main culprit for all our work fatigue woes, looking a little deeper into our habits and work patterns can help pinpoint our energy leaks and give us better clues to work around our issues.
The 2 scenarios below may sound familiar to you:-
The average person spends upwards of 10 hours a day staring at a screen. While we can blame a portion of that on work, most of us also spend our off hours with our nose firmly attached to our mobile device or laptop.
Not only does this impact our ability to get proper rest (devices that emit blue light, such as phones, tablets, and laptops, can reduce sleep quality and increase depression, anxiety, and stress), but studies show that being unable to fully disconnect from work is a major source of ongoing work-related fatigue and even burnout.
Going against the natural “Productivity Curve”
We all go through a series of energy highs and lows during the day. This is thanks to something called circadian rhythm—an internal clock that cycles through periods of alertness and fatigue.
Going against this cycle can increase your likelihood of work fatigue and also leave you feeling frustrated and burnt out.
Much like burnout, work fatigue is a constant state of tiredness that won’t go away. Eventually, it seeps into other aspects of your life and makes it harder to focus, feel motivated, and even disconnect from work.
The good news is that there are some simple, effective ways you can give your tired employees a hand:
- Use more teams
When workers are tired, it becomes very easy for them to miss details or forget points. If you pair people together or ask them to work in small groups, they can keep each other accountable so that nothing is missed. A team approach can also promote better efficiency so the workers can get out the door faster, as everyone is together in one place to brainstorm, ask questions or share resources.
- Let them take a nap
Small pauses to recharge can be incredibly good for productivity and your bottom line. As reported by Scott Stump of “Today,” major companies such as Google and Proctor & Gamble are taking the positive results of nap studies (for example, those by the University of California at Berkeley and National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health in Atlanta) to heart. They are actively incorporating nap rooms, sometimes called “rejuvenation rooms,” and are experiencing nothing but growth.
Some people on your staff will have fatigue problems simply because they are not educated about certain issues. For instance, they might not realize the effects that a late-night drink with caffeine can have, or they might not really understand how to tell if their sleep is really recuperative. Through memos, pamphlets, one-on-one conversations and general staff meetings, you can provide this wellness data to your entire workforce. Give facts about how being tired influences the company and how it quickly can spiral into a safety issue.
- Have a stricter overtime policy.
This is an extension from point 3, educating. Although it’s nice to contribute to your workers’ financial stability with timely overtime payments, you need to communicate that a few extra dollars is simply not worth the lack of productivity and even huger risks that the excess fatigue from more overtime can bring — including personal injury on the job. It has happened before and will happen again to anyone. Not to mention that tired workers can make costly, reputation-damaging mistakes — like transferring money to the wrong accounts, handing over the wrong documentation to high profile clients! — because they didn’t get enough rest. Put a limit on overtime if you can, and possibly give it on an approval-only basis.
- Be mindful of your heating and cooling.
Working in an environment that is too warm or cold presents an additional challenge to the body that drains energy. Make sure that the room is at a comfortable temperature and allow workers to make basic wardrobe adjustments (for example, adding a sweater) to meet their personal preferences without disruption. Check that the air is always fresh and flowing well, too.
- Put the right foods in the pantry
Some offices place cookies and ice cream in the pantry to delight staff who want to indulge in their cravings once in awhile, but in fact comfort food can encourage sugar crashes, spiking blood sugar levels and then causing blood sugar to drop rapidly in the aftermath. You can consider providing healthy sugars that fuel the brain in foods such as apples and bananas, along with sources of protein and good fat that keep blood sugar from spiking, like nuts. It would help people feel better in the long run.
Work fatigue is bad for your workers physically and will put your company in jeopardy if you do not address it. Policy tweaks such as letting people take breaks for naps or limiting overtime are a huge step in the right direction and so are ergonomic improvements. Although these modifications might require some costs and logistics, the increase in productivity from improved alertness should negate the expense of the level of help it could give.