Workplace fatigue is an epidemic in the modern office. A study from Westfield Health showed that 1 in 10 Brits take unauthorized naps at work, and over one third say their fatigue is impacting their mental health. This epidemic is costing companies vast sums of money in lost productivity and illnesses. The same study shows that 1 in 5 doctor’s visits are due to fatigue and that 3 in 10 workers state they have made a serious mistake or been injured on the job because of workplace fatigue.
The role of an employer has always been murky at best on this subject. As long as an employee can perform their duties, companies didn’t seem to show much interest in this issue. But now that studies can link fatigue to loss of productivity, some companies are starting to take notice. They are seeing that preventing fatigue is not only in the best interest of their employees, it is also in the best interest of their bottom line.
Office Workers Are Just As Susceptible
The issue of workplace fatigue used to only be considered a problem for warehouse and shift workers. Night shift workers can experience fatigue because their overnight shifts disrupt their circadian rhythms. Warehouse workers drive forklifts and operate other dangerous equipment. Even moments of exhaustion can put them and their co-workers in harm's way.
New research now shows that while those jobs are still at high risk for workplace fatigue, office workers are just as susceptible to these issues. Things outside the workplace can trigger fatigue in the workplace. If a worker does not get enough rest at home, that will follow them into the workplace. This fatigue will lead to mistakes in their work, which will then cause the employee stress. This will perpetuate a cycle that will need to be broken for success to resume.
Fatigue in a worker can also be triggered by their job. If they are required to work excessive hours at their job, they will suffer from fatigue. Overtime may be great for the wallet, but not great for one’s health. If their job is boring and repetitive, fatigue will set in. Stress from an individual’s job can be the cause of their fatigue. When job stress follows a worker home, it can interrupt their sleep, which then continues the vicious cycle.
While not mentioned as often, poor working conditions can also cause workplace fatigue. Poor lighting creates eye strain, which in turn leads to lower productivity and exhaustion. An office that is too hot/cold is another factor. Poor ergonomics and uncomfortable desks and chairs are also contributing factors to fatigue.
The Impact of Workplace Fatigue
Companies were slow to figure it out, but some are beginning to see the impact this has on their businesses. The first area where companies feel that impact is in their wallets. Workplace fatigue leads to employees making errors in their work. Those errors will need to be fixed, which means a company will have to spend additional time and payroll dollars to fix whatever went wrong. Not mention if customers and clients are dissatisfied with a project. That can equal lost revenue to the company.
The lost money to a company doesn’t even begin to cover what is lost in terms of employer health costs. Estimates place the amount of money lost each year in fatigue-related costs at $136 billion. Yes, that is billion with a B. Absenteeism, occupational injuries, and workplace injuries contribute to these numbers. Not to mention, as an employee develops more illnesses related to their fatigue, their stress levels increase, and the negative sequence continues.
What Employers Can Do To Help
To help address fatigue issues in the workplace, employers should examine the things that are in their direct control. Issues such as staffing and scheduling are things a company can actually do something about. If a lack of staffing and/or unreasonable workloads are causing stress and fatigue issues, they need to correct those problems. Providing proper breaks and adequate time in between shifts is something else that an employer can have a direct impact on.
While employers can not impact what an employee does when they are not on the clock, they can still promote positive behaviors through company programs. For employees who may have issues outside of work that contribute to their fatigue, EAP programs can serve as a great benefit to those that need some additional help in those areas. If a company does not already have one, creating a health & wellness program is another way to affect positive habits in your employees. These programs can cover anything from the benefits of exercise and how to get a good night’s sleep.
Employers have not always recognized the role they needed to play in the reduction of workplace fatigue. However, many now see what happens when they don’t take an active role in reducing fatigue in their workplaces. They know lost productivity means lost profits for their business. Making small investments in the health & wellbeing of their workers equal large payoffs in the end for them.