Need to know:
- Fatigue can have a major effect on productivity in the workplace, reducing an employee’s ability to think clearly and make informed decisions.
- Many solutions to addressing fatigue are already present in employers’ healthcare and wellbeing strategies.
- Workplace interventions and wearable technology are examples of cost-effective methods of improving habits and reducing fatigue.
Fatigue, the physical and mental state of being extremely tired, has a range of causes, from lack of sleep and mental stress, to diseases such as cancer.
It can also be caused by working excessive hours and poorly designed shift patterns, says Charles Alberts, head of health management at Aon: “Employees who work at night are at greater risk of fatigue because their day sleep is often lighter, shorter and more easily disturbed because of daytime noise and a natural reluctance to sleep during daylight.”
In the workplace, fatigue can reduce the ability to think clearly, make informed decisions and even assess risk, thereby having a major effect on both productivity and safety.
In many cases, fatigue and its effects can be prevented through changes to an individual’s work or lifestyle, while medical causes can be diagnosed and managed. The means to do this may well already be integrated into an organisation’s benefits package.
“When we consider that many wellbeing programmes already target issues such as not sleeping enough, not getting exercise, drinking too much coffee, dehydration [and] stress, employers will find that the solution may already be within their grasp,” says Alberts.
Organisations are being urged to work with employees to make fatigue management part of their core health and wellbeing strategy. Training managers and mental health first aiders to identify signs of fatigue and support employees with sleep issues are key steps to take.
The workplace itself can also play a role in protecting and enhancing employee wellbeing, and initiatives do not need to be complex or costly. Ensuring there is an easily accessible supply of fresh drinking water, providing non-caffeinated hot drink options, creating the freedom to move around and work in different spaces, and allowing regular breaks are all strategies that can be easily employed.
Georgina Portwain, culture and engagement strategist at workplace culture specialist OC Tanner Europe, says that technology can encourage employees to address their own sleep problems. This might be achieved by providing wearable technology that tracks sleeping patterns and rewarding staff who make positive lifestyle changes.
“It can be done simply and cost-effectively,” Portwain adds. “Wearables with basic functionality to track sleep and step count can be purchased for as little as £20. Buying in bulk will further reduce this cost.”
Many organisations combine the purchase of wearables with the acquisition of wellbeing software, enabling employees to set their own goals, create and join challenges, track their performance, learn new habits and share accomplishments.
The most effective intervention and management strategies are those that recognise the causes of fatigue and directly intervene to create positive change, for example by offering flexibility with working hours.
David Price, chief executive officer and wellbeing expert at Health Assured, says: “[Employers] may be surprised by just how many employees need to take time for the school run, and would prefer to start just an hour later.”
It is important to monitor employees’ workloads, as well as introducing regular catch-up meetings to gain a clear picture of their ability to cope with the stressors that might result in fatigue and poor wellbeing.
“Talk to them about delegating tasks, make sure they have projects they can complete within normal working hours, and ensure they have cover available so they can take leave if necessary,” advises Price.
There are clear benefits, to both employees and businesses, to making fatigue intervention part of a wider wellness strategy.
Alberts concludes: “It aligns with activity that many employers are already doing, but we need to raise awareness of the issue. As there are so many factors that can cause [fatigue], it’s a great way to pull together all the components of a wellbeing strategy to show the benefits of a holistic approach to wellbeing, from physical, to mental, financial and work wellbeing.”