Managing Workplace Fatigue

Jobs that require long or irregular shifts are rather common in a lot of industries. According to OSHA, many American workers spend over 40 hours a week at work and almost 15 million work full time on evening, night, rotating or other irregular shifts. These types of work schedules often contribute to worker fatigue. Certain times of the year are also more prone to worker fatigue; one example being the holiday season. Many find themselves stretching their days to get everything done. It’s important that employers support their workers by creating a schedule that works for both them and their employees.

Employers are responsible for providing sufficient breaks and rest time to employees between shifts. It is also important that managers are aware of the signs of fatigue to recognize when their employees are displaying symptoms. Noticing the signs and symptoms will help employers avoid injuries and costly damage.

Workplace Fatigue is Dangerous

Fatigued workers increase the risk for illnesses and injuries. According to the American Psychology Association, accident and injury rates are 18% greater during evening shifts and 30% greater during night shifts when compared to day shifts. Employees dealing with a lack of rest experience reduced alertness and reaction time. This can put them at risk driving to and from work, as well as throughout the shift. If fatigue is prevalent in the workplace, managers and supervisors must take action to protect their employees.

The Signs of Workplace Fatigue

  • Tiredness
  • Reduced alertness
  • Irritability
  • Lack of motivation
  • Increased mistakes
  • Headaches
  • Increased illness

Easing Employee Fatigue

Here's what OSHA recommends employers do to reduce the risk:

  • Examine staffing issues such as workload, work hours, understaffing and worker absences, scheduled and unscheduled.

  • Arrange schedules to allow frequent opportunities for rest breaks and nighttime sleep.

  • Make adjustments to the work environment (lighting, temperature, and physical surroundings) to increase alertness.

  • Provide worker education and training addressing the hazards of worker fatigue, the symptoms, the impact of fatigue on health and relationships, adequate quality and quantity of sleep, and the importance of diet exercise, and stress management strategies to minimize the adverse effects of fatigue.

  • Consider implementing a Fatigue Risk Management Plan, under which, fatigue, can be managed - resources from OSHA here.

Here are some additional suggestions that could help combat employee fatigue and burnout:

  • Set a festive atmosphere during the holiday season to help employees feel more relaxed. 

  • Employees can often feel overwhelmed at work when their priorities are not clear. Set distinct goals that your employees are aware of and remind them of the goals if they are beginning to get overwhelmed. From there, they can establish a clear set of tasks. 

  • Keep means of communication open, so that employees feel comfortable discussing any challenges they may be facing in life or at work that may start to affect their performance. This allows supervisors to work with employees and come up with a solution that keeps everything moving smoothly. It's important that you allow flexibility with employees where you can. 

  • Reward employees and celebrate successes. It's important that employees are aware of when they're doing an outstanding job. Celebrating even small successes is important, especially during a stressful time of year, like the holidays.