Signs of Fatigue in the Workplace: How to Prevent and Manage Symptoms

Fatigue in the workplace can reduce productivity and increase the likelihood of mistakes on the job. In an office environment, this can cost businesses both time and money, while in more dangerous industries, fatigue can increase the risk of injury and accidents in the workplace.

Mistakes due to fatigue in any work environment are preventable if businesses invest in workplace health and safety. Employers can prevent and manage fatigue in the workplace by reducing workplace stress, ensuring workers take required breaks, and routinely monitoring employee health.

What is Fatigue and What Causes it?

Fatigue refers to extreme tiredness or exhaustion. It is not simply the feeling of being tired. In the workplace, fatigue negatively affects an employee’s ability to perform their work effectively, and in some cases, safely.

Safe Work Australia lists signs of fatigue, including:

  • Tiredness even after sleep
  • Reduced hand-eye coordination or slow reflexes
  • Short term memory problems and an inability to concentrate
  • Blurred vision or impaired visual perception
  • A need for extended sleep during days off work

Fatigue can be caused by an overall lack of sleep, whether that’s due to work, personal life, or both. Fatigue can be acute (short-term sleep loss) or chronic (sleep loss accumulated over time).

It may be the result of irregular sleeping patterns, such as switching back and forth between day and night shifts, or extended periods of working without adequate break time. An employee may become fatigued after spending a long time performing repetitive tasks, or tasks that are not mentally stimulating. Fatigue can also be caused by prolonged periods of stress, anxiety, or mental activity.

Fatigue in Dangerous Work Environments

There are a number of industries where fatigue in the workplace can have more dire consequences than just productivity. For dangerous jobs such as construction, mining, agriculture, transportation, and manufacturing, it is critical that workers and employers prevent fatigue, and monitor and manage fatigue symptoms. A mistake on the job in a dangerous work environment could result in injury or death for workers and those around them.

Drivers need to be aware at all times on the job, especially when under stress. A fatigued driver is a dangerous driver, threatening not only their own lives but the lives of others on the road. It is imperative that drivers are able to listen to their own bodies. Driving while fatigued is the same as driving drunk. Going without sleep for 18 hours is the same as having a blood alcohol level of .05, which is the legal limit in Australia. If it’s not acceptable for an employee to drive drunk, it should be just as unacceptable for them to drive while fatigued.

💡 Learn more about health and safety risks in the transportation industry.

Every day, construction workers are put to the limits of their physical abilities. They work long, hard hours while operating specialised tools, dangerous machinery, and large motorized vehicles. All of the equipment required by the job can cause bodily harm to themselves or those around them if a mistake is made. When on the job, construction workers must be able to keep their focus, handle stress, pay attention to details, and remain calm under pressure, all of which are difficult to do when fatigue sets in. Work quality and the safety of others will be put at risk if a construction worker is tired while on the job.

💡 Learn more about health and safety risks in the building and construction industry.

How to Manage Fatigue in the Workplace
Provide Healthy Prepared Meals

Meal preparation takes up a large portion of anyone’s day. Since it can take so long, many workers will avoid preparing a healthy meal for themselves in favour of fast food. A study by Roy Morgan showed that a staggering 84.5% of Australians over the age of 14 consume fast food. Due to the fact it contains very little nutrition, fast food can lead to fatigue and reduced productivity.

You can relieve some of your employees’ stress by providing free and healthy meals in the workplace made from whole foods. Try daily or weekly catered lunches provided by a local food vendor and provide healthy snacks, water, tea, and coffee so your employees can recharge as needed. This small contribution will free up a portion of your team’s time so that they can focus on taking a real break during their lunch break and downtime between workdays.

Limit Overtime

Overtime can negatively impact on an employee’s health, and that impacts on your business.

Research shows that working more than 48 hours a week is associated with significant declines in productivity, accuracy, and mental health. Create a workplace culture that doesn’t value overexertion. Put a limit on overtime to ensure your employees don’t burn out because of exhaustion on the job. In the long run, this will save your business in costly mistakes due to fatigue.

The Society of Occupational Medicine found in their 2017 study that maintaining regular weekly working hours and avoiding excessive overtime work reduced the risk of anxiety, depression and sleep disorders.”

If you can, get rid of overtime altogether, and encourage or mandate that your employees work no more than their allotted hours.

Mandatory Holidays

Working long stretches without adequate time to recuperate has negative long-term impacts on a business. A survey in 2018 of 1000 working Australians found: the equivalent of 2.4 million full-time working Australians have gone without taking leave for more than a year, with 86% experiencing burnout as a result of not taking enough leave.”

Establish a workplace that values holidays and leave. Ensure your workers take their holidays and make sure it’s possible for them to do so. It’s essential that workplace culture is monitored to make sure people don’t feel pressured to choose work over holidays.

Taking a holiday is scientifically good for your health because they reduce stress, improve productivity, and aid better sleep. It’s in a business’ best interest to encourage regular, or even mandatory, holidays to prevent fatigue and burnout in the workplace.

Resting Facilities

Provide a safe, clean, and comfortable environment for your employees to take breaks. This space can be as simple as a break room or a more elaborate space that provides additional comforts.

🌿 Add green plants to break rooms to increase happiness and productivity. Plants clean the air, reduce stress, limit noise levels, and reduce your chances of getting sick.

Ensure the space is always clean and never noisy or smelly. Small distractions in break spaces can hinder your workers’ ability to rejuvenate themselves for the rest of the work day ahead.

Promote Work Smarter, Not Harder

Ensure your workers understand ‘work smarter, not harder’ and make sure that’s emulated throughout the workplace. You want your employees to not only get the job done, but do it well, and that usually doesn’t mean working as many hours as possible.

One-sixth of working Australians spend 49 hours or more a week on the job. A work environment that admires long, hard hours over productivity and results can lead to burnout in the workplace. Working longer hours doesn’t mean increased productivity. In fact, the increased stress of work environments that promote constant hard work will lead to fatigue, poor decision making, workplace mistakes, and anxiety.

Ongoing Employee Health Checks

Employee health checks help businesses and employers monitor and support the health of their workforce. Routine health checks can discover fatigue in the workplace and give each employee the opportunity to discuss their own health.

An employee health check accounts for a range of check-ups that help identify new risks to the health and wellbeing of your workforce. Providing employee health checks ensures your employees are safe and healthy for the duration of their employment and beyond.

Health checks also provide additional long-term benefits to employers. They help retain valuable talent, reduce employee downtime from illness or injury, reduce workers’ compensation/WorkCover claims, and reduce insurance costs saving businesses both time and money.

💡 Learn more about The Importance and Benefits of Employee Health Checks.

Continue Supporting Your Workforce

In Australia and New Zealand, Gallup reports that only 14% of workers are engaged. Learn how you can Increase Motivation in the Workplace by promoting physical wellbeing, supporting small goals, and giving consistent positive reinforcement.

Sitting for long hours is linked to many negative health effects including increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, and excess body fat. It can also contribute to fatigue. Learn how workers and employers can Reduce Sedentary Behaviour at Work to limit long-term health risks.

Workforce Health Assessors offers comprehensive pre-employment, pre-placement, and periodic medical assessments tailored to the needs of your business. We organise, perform, and report on all health assessments and medicals to help you determine the suitability of candidates for your business and mitigate risks in the workplace. Our tests are carefully designed and vary depending on the specifications of the role a candidate will fill. Learn more about our pre-employment medical services, ongoing employee health checks and other health assessment services.