Why Employee Fatigue Is a Productivity and Safety Concern

Why Employee Fatigue Is a Productivity and Safety Concern

There’s a good chance you have heard the term “fatigue” more than once in your lifetime, but do you really know what it means to be suffering from fatigue? Fatigue is more than just simply being tired, which results from short-term sleep loss or from short periods of heavy physical or mental work. Being tired, sometimes referred to as acute fatigue, is temporary, and symptoms such as sleepiness and feeling worn out subside after a good night’s sleep. Fatigue, on the other hand, is the state of feeling very tired, weary, or sleepy resulting from insufficient sleep, prolonged mental or physical work, or extended periods of stress or anxiety (Dyck, 2018).

How Does Fatigue Affect Work?

Our society today is recognized as being chronically sleep-deprived, with Canada being listed as the third most sleep-deprived country. Nearly a third (31%) of Canadians feel as though they do not sleep enough (Dyck, 2018). Fatigue is strongly associated with cognitive and functional impairment, as it negatively impacts cognitive performance, memory, vigilance, problem-solving abilities, planning, and even verbal fluency (2018). These impairments are associated with workplace incidents, including errors in judgment, injuries, reduced quality of care and vehicular accidents.

Along with these risks associated with fatigue, impairments caused by fatigue also reduce worker productivity and decrease attention to detail, and workers’ learning and creative abilities are negatively affected (2018). Fatigue affects shift-workers in another form, as their normal sleep patterns and circadian rhythms are altered to reflect their work schedules – this negatively impacts an employee’s ability to remember details, stay alert, make good decisions, and respond in a timely manner.

Presenteeism is a term used to denote when an employee is present at work, but their productivity and abilities are decreased due to fatigue. Presenteeism has been reported to cost employers nine times the cost of employee absenteeism (2018). In other words, it is less expensive to have an employee miss work than to have them come to work fatigued and unable to do their job to the best of their ability.

What Can Employers Do?

  • Create schedules that give employees an adequate amount of time between shifts.
  • If the job requires long hours/overtime, consider that the time between shifts is not always completely dedicated to resting – it is also needed for other tasks such as commuting, preparing and eating meals, socializing, and relaxing.
  • Provide a work environment that has good lighting, comfortable temperatures, and reasonable noise levels.
  • Be sensitive to the different types of work activity that is done in your environment – repetition of the same task can lead to fatigue.
  • Be flexible when assigning tasks – assign workers who may be fatigued to tasks that aren’t safety sensitive.
  • If your workplace has long shifts or frequent overtime, consider providing amenities for your workers, such as the following:
    – Prepared meals
    – On-site accommodations
    – Facilities where workers can nap either during the shift or before driving home if necessary (WorkSafeBC, 2014).

What Can Employees Do?

People need at least 7.5 to 8.5 hours of sleep a day. Studies have shown that approximately one third of working males get an average of 4 to 6 hours of sleep per night, and most night-shift workers get less sleep per week than those who work day shifts. It has also been noted that the quality of sleep during the day is not as beneficial as sleeping throughout the night. Here are some simple guidelines to improve your quality of sleep (WorkSafeBC, 2014):

  • Go to bed and get up at roughly the same time every day.
  • Turn out the light immediately when going to bed.
  • Turn screens OFF at least one hour before bed.
  • Don’t read or watch television or work on your tablet/laptop in bed.
  • Put your cell phone in another room instead of by your bed.
  • Make your room as dark and quiet as possible.
  • Use white noise devices such as fans to block outside noises.
  • Establish regular eating times with nutritious food.
  • Avoid caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol, especially before bedtime.
  • Exercise regularly.

Take a look at this video on sleep strategies prepared by Nancy Gowan.

How Can Gowan Consulting Help?

Gowan Consulting is a national organization with more than 150 Occupational Therapists across Canada. We provide Occupational Therapy coaching virtually and onsite. Ease of access and proactive onsite or virtual support ensures that employees can stay at or return to work.

Gowan Consulting helps employers to identify psychological risk factors in the workplace, implement measures to reduce the risk, and support employees in psychological health and safety in the workplace. We believe work is healthy when it is safe and provides meaningful, productive activities that meet the employee’s abilities. Our Occupational Therapists can assess the employee’s ability to function in the workplace and the impact of fatigue on productivity and safety.  We can provide you with the necessary information to keep the employee, coworkers, and your work safe.  For more information regarding our workplace solutions, contact us, or book an assessment here.

More Tools

  • Sign up for our Cognitive Demands Analysis Certificate Program! Learn step-by-step how to complete and objectively document a CDA , and get the tools to create a return to work plan using a CDA.
  • Our virtual office ergonomic assessments are now ON SALE for a limited time! Now until April 30th, get $100 off – that’s only $300 for a virtual ergonomic assessment! Make a referral here to take full advantage of the deal.
  • Manager Mental Health Training is now running all year long! Our next session takes place on May 18, 2021. Get a full list of dates and more information on the sessions here.
  • Want more training? Nancy Gowan will be a keynote speaker at Infonex’s 20th annual Managing Your Duty to Accommodate professional development event! This conference is specifically designed to guide HR, legal and disability management leaders discover best practices for the employer’s role in the accommodation process in today’s rapidly evolving workplace environment. The event takes place March 30-31. Find out more here.
  • Find out how Nancy Gowan built Gowan Consulting from the ground up in The Lindsay Gowan Show’s YouTube video! In this interview, learn more about how this inspiring businesswoman has spent the last 22 years building a company and changing lives.

Works Cited

Dyck, D. (2018). At work and impaired? OOHNA Journal of the Ontario Occupational Health Nurses Association, 37 (1). 7-11.

WorkSafeBC. (2014, Dec 16). The dangers of fatigue in the workplace. Retrieved from https://safetyalliancebc.ca/the-dangers-of-fatigue-in-the-workplace/.

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