Just how common is workplace fatigue? A lot more than you might imagine. According to the National Safety Council (NSC), as much as 69% of the US workforce experience fatigue in the workplace. That’s a huge portion of the manpower taking a hit.
The consequences? Productivity is greatly reduced. According to recent statistics, fatigued workers lose 5.6 hours of productivity time weekly, costing employers $136 billion annually in the US alone.
But that’s not all.
The health and safety of fatigued workers are also affected – negatively.
So workplace fatigue cannot just simply be ignored. Employers have the responsibility of eliminating it, or at the very least, helping their employees deal with it.
Here are a few ways this can be achieved.
Incorporate Aromatherapy to Curb Stress
Stress is a major contributor to feelings of fatigue. So dealing with it has the potential of significantly cutting back on the levels of workplace fatigue.
There is a ton of tools you can employ to achieve this, aromatherapy being one of them. It’s been found that fragrances have an influence on the state of the brain and hence stress levels. So how can employers use fragrances at the workplace?
Aroma diffusers are one way of going about it. Employers can set up either one or several diffusers around the workplace to release sweet-smelling scents throughout the day. Stick to essence oils that promote relaxation, which include jasmine, ylang ylang, lavender, and sandalwood.
Allocate Multiple Breaks Daily
Long working hours can take a toll on employees. The human mind can only focus for so long. According to studies, 90-120 minutes is the maximum amount of time employees can sustain peak performance and focus. After that, you’re no longer getting the best out of your workers.
Breaking down the workday into multiple short breaks can be highly beneficial, both for your employees’ health and productivity. Breaks replenish the spent mental ability, improving employees’ performance later on when they resume.
Instead of allocating an entire day’s break into lunch, a better approach is to spread it out across the entire day. Studies confirm that multiple breaks throughout the day helps improve focus and productivity.
I usually advocate the following in a typical office setting:
- One 15 minute break at 10:30am
- Lunch break
- One 15 minute break at 3pm
If the office has a kitchen or common area, encourage employees to gather in that area to get them out of their chairs.
Divide Employees Into Virtual Teams
Teams cope better in the face of fatigue compared to individuals.
That’s according to a study by a London South Bank University senior lecturer in social psychology. In the study, Daniel Frings, Ph.D., enlisted a total of 171 soldiers as test subjects, some assigned to a group while others by themselves. The soldiers were then challenged with a series of math problems. It was observed that the soldiers who were in groups performed better in both problem solving and fatigue management than those who went at it alone.
With that said, one powerful way to minimize fatigue and empower employees is to assign everyone into small virtual teams that can monitor one another for signs of fatigue and stress, and act as intermediaries between the employee and HR for coming up with solutions.
Have a Fatigue Risk Management System (FRMS) in Place
An FRMS is another effective way of handling fatigue, since it pulls in all segments of the workplace to act as sensors for detecting workplace fatigue. Instead of just management handling the whole process, workers are also playing a role.
Under the fatigue risk management system, there is a robust process for identifying, reporting and managing instances of fatigue.
At the very basic level, employers can develop their own FRMS by having:
- A system by which fatigue can be reported
- A training for employees on matters of fatigue
- Continuous reviews of the process to determine its effectiveness.
Improve Workplace Lighting
As trivial it might seem, lighting plays a major role in boosting workplace productivity and reducing drowsiness.
Poor lighting is associated with general feelings of exhaustion. Dim or warm lighting has been shown to promote comfort and relaxation, which during the daytime is counterproductive.
To enhance productivity and reduce the feeling of fatigue, studies have shown that natural lighting or artificial LED light with a high color temperature (in Kelvins) work best.
Create More Opportunities for Standing at Work
This may sound counterproductive, but a sedentary lifestyle that emcompasses sitting for 8 hours or more a day only exacerbates fatigue, anxiety, and even depression.
When we start moving more, blood circulation is improved, which brings all kinds of health benefits, including more energy. The simple act of standing periodically at work has been shown to do just that.
Here are a few ways to create more opportunities for standing at work:
- Conduct standing meetings from time to time
- Add a couple of standing desks that employees can take turn utilizing
- Create a 15 minute daily walking break program that employees can take part in
Promote Good Sleeping Hygiene
While fatigue has a variety of causes, the number one reason for fatigue is quite simple: lack of sleep. The average person needs 7-9 hours of sleep each night, according to experts. The CDC has shown that at least 1 in 3 Americans don’t get anywhere near enough sleep. Inadequate sleep is a disaster waiting to happen in the workplace.
With that said, one of the most effective ways to combat fatigue in the workplace is for employers to educate their staff on the importance of good sleeping hygiene at home:
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol and other stimulants 4 hours before bedtime
- Reduce your exposure to blue light emitting devices such as your mobile phone and computer monitor in the evening. Turn them off 1 hour prior to bedtime.
- Avoid overeating in the evening, which can cause indigestion and keep you up at night.
- Establish a regular sleeping pattern. Research shows the ideal time to go to bed is between 8pm and midnight.
In the workplace, employers can set up designated nap areas in their buildings. The power of a nap can not be disputed. Just a twenty minute nap can dramatically boost awareness and improve motor skills, according to sleep experts.
Employees that work graveyard shifts are especially susceptible to fatigue due to the constant disruption to their natural circadian rhythm. Give these workers as much rest between shifts as possible, plus short naps during shifts.
Divide Long Shifts into Multiple Shifts
Employees who work excessive hours are at risk for a whole host of health conditions besides chronic fatigue. Stroke, diabetes, heart disease, and psychiatric disorders are just a few of the issues that can arise when a person works too much.
Limit shifts to 8 hours in length and give employees plenty of rest in between shifts. Allow enough resting time for a worker to go home, unwind and sleep a full 7 hours before resuming work again. Studies have shown workers that are sleep deprived can become seriously impaired, with a loss of just 2 hours of sleep producing similar effects to having 3 cans of beer.
Workplace fatigue is a bigger problem than most people can figure – more than half of US workers experience fatigue.
And going by all the negative effects – lost productivity, health problems, and safety concerns – it’s more important than ever that employers take charge in tackling it.
About the Author
George is the senior editor and ergonomist at Ergonomic Trends. You can find him hitting the gym or the yoga studio when he’s not working hard at a cafe as a digital nomad.