As the week winds down, so do our energy levels. But fatigued employees are not only underproductive, they can be a workplace risk. So, how can we combat workplace fatigue?
Reduced alertness due to workplace fatigue results in nearly 10,000 serious workplace injuries in Australia each year, according to research from Monash University. In order to combat the negative effects, businesses need to be able to recognise the signs of fatigued employees, as well as how to correct their workload to provide them with greater balance.
What is fatigue?
Fatigue is a general term used to describe the feeling of being tired, drained or exhausted. It’s a cumulative and gradual process that manifests in the form of tiredness, lack of energy, exhaustion and reductions in performance capacity. Though often shrugged off as a common, almost universal feature of modern life, when it occurs in excess, fatigue quickly becomes an industrial and public safety issue for workplaces.
Whose responsibility is it to manage fatigue?
Leslie Tarnacki CAHRI, vice president and general manager of Human Resources, WorkForce Software, WFS Australia, says that often employees keep quiet about feeling overworked and overwhelmed. It’s up to leaders, she says, to spot those fatigued workers and address the issue before it gets out of hand.
It’s a problem that’s more widespread than you might think. One third of Australians do not take their allocated annual leave, according to the Australian Institute. But keeping track of employees’ time-off entitlements and ensuring they take adequate leave is not just good for staff wellbeing and morale – it can also help boost business productivity.
“Business leaders should ask potentially fatigued employees explicit questions, such as ‘Do you have too much on your plate?’ From here they can review their workloads and make necessary adjustments,” says Tarnacki.
What can workplaces do to combat fatigue?
Tarnacki advises organisations to develop robust fatigue management systems and consider workforce management software as a way to keep a check on workloads and eliminate over-scheduling employees to prevent workplace fatigue.
An effective fatigue management system is imperative for any business where staff are driving for long periods during, before or after work.
A recent study from the Australian Work Health Authority showed fatigue and microsleeps were a factor in a significant number of incident notifications of light and heavy vehicle accidents at or near mine sites, some resulting in serious injuries. A microsleep is an episode of sleep which may last for a fraction of a second or up to 30 seconds. For the sleep-deprived, or the fatigued, microsleeping while driving at 100km/hr means you will travel the length of a football field while not in control of your car.
Assessment is also key to reducing hazards. A Fatigue Risk Management System (FRMS) should be a ‘living and breathing’ document that adapts to and learns from changes in the workplace. By identifying and assessing tasks that can result in undue fatigue, countermeasures can be easily chosen and planned.
Finally, workforce management technology can help to protect both employees and the business’s bottom line. The software works by notifying managers when employees have worked too many hours or not had a long enough break between shifts.
The 5 warning signs of fatigue
The circadian rhythm acts as a body’s internal alarm clock, telling the body when to sleep, when to wake-up and when to eat. On average, an adult requires eight hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. When this doesn’t happen, disrupted circadian rhythms can impact on the quality and quantity of sleep, task performance and create a sense of personal imbalance.
Keep an eye out for the top warning signs of employee fatigue:
- Unusual emotion. Be aware of employees acting out of character, such as showing emotional distress, moodiness, or having a bad attitude in the workplace
- Consistent lateness. Some employees will run late in every aspect of their lives out of bad habit. However, if a normally punctual employee arrives late to work every morning, it can indicate poor work-life balance
- A cluttered workspace. Pay attention to employees’ desk and work stations. While some people prefer a more chaotic environment, a messy workspace can be a symptom of overwork and workplace fatigue.
- Forgetfulness and disregard for the team at large. Ongoing forgetfulness can affect an entire team. It can waste other employees’ time and hinder their performance. It can also be a sign that an employee has too many things to think about.
- Productivity dips despite longer hours. The more hours you work, the less you get done. Productivity often decreases and workplace fatigue increases the longer employees spend at work.