10 ways to fight fatigue
The impact of fatigue in the workplace is too often underestimated but has the potential to be significant and wide-ranging.
Its effects can be particularly acute in manual working environments and fatigue is said to cost the UK £115 to £240 million per year in terms of work accidents alone.
But fatigue is an important consideration for all employers, regardless of the industry or environment.
A number of studies highlight the link between fatigue and reduced productivity, as well as increased stress and absenteeism. Fatigue also results in slower reactions, reduced ability to process information, memory lapses, absent-mindedness, decreased awareness, lack of attention, underestimation of risk and reduced coordination.
Therefore, it should be treated in the same way as any other workplace risk or hazard, with steps taken to mitigate its impact. Here we outline 10 ways in which you can help to combat fatigue among your employees.
1. Give careful thought to shift patterns
Fatigue can be a particularly significant factor for shift workers, especially those regularly working night shifts or unusual hours.
Employers can use tools such as the HSE’s ‘fatigue risk index’ to conduct risk assessments around shift patterns, allowing them to design schedules that minimise risk and best suit their employees.
Key risk factors include the workload, the work activity, shift timing and duration, direction of rotation and the number and length of breaks during and between shifts. Employees should also be consulted during this process to obtain their input and feedback.
2. Put a policy in place for working hours
This policy should provide specific guidelines on working hours and set limits for employees. It should also address factors such as overtime and shift-swapping, with arrangements put in place to monitor and enforce the policy. This may include a robust system for recording working hours, overtime, shift-swapping and on-call working.
If it is found that the policy is regularly being breached, efforts might be taken to increase staffing levels, rearrange workloads or provide employees with support.
3. Regularly update job descriptions
Individual job descriptions will inevitably change over time as employees take on new responsibilities and their role changes in relation to colleagues. Therefore, it may be appropriate to regularly audit job descriptions and workloads to see if there may be a reason why a certain person or department may be struggling with fatigue.
If you see that a job description is unbalanced or has had responsibilities added to it over the years, consider taking steps to redesign the job by varying the balance between mental and physical tasks, for example.
4. Ensure work stations are ergonomically designed
Postural fatigue caused by an awkward working position can also result in general tiredness, but ergonomic adjustments to the working environment can help to combat this. For example, steps should be taken to help employees sitting at a desk to ensure their arms are well supported, they do not have to reach for their keyboard and don’t adopt a slouched position.
Equally steps to reduce screen glare and ensure employees sit at a safe distance from their monitors will help to reduce strain on their eyes.
5. Provide water
Symptoms associated with dehydration include mental fatigue, headaches, poor concentration, and muscle weakness, so it can contribute to an overall feeling of tiredness or sluggishness.
Physiological reasons for these symptoms include a reduction in blood volume, which can result in less oxygen, glucose and nutrients being carried around the body.
Employers can take swift action here simply by providing a water cooler and offering staff education on recommended water intake.
6. Encourage a healthy diet
Diet is a big factor in levels of daytime fatigue, and brain function is dependent on adequate nutrition.
NHS guidance suggests a healthy, balanced diet containing foods from all four of the main food groups is essential, while it is important to eat at regular intervals to ensure your body learns to manage feelings of hunger and sustain energy levels.
Breakfast is also important to set us up properly for the day but, despite this, up to one-third of us regularly skip breakfast according to the British Dietetic Association (BDA). Employers can help by setting up breakfast clubs, providing healthy snacks and balanced meal options, or by providing general nutritional advice.
7. Provide regular health screenings
Health screenings can perform a key role as part of a more proactive approach to employee health. They can measure everything from blood pressure and body fat to lung function and hearing and act as a non-taxable benefit if conducted on an annual basis.
The information gained from such screenings can help to flag health or lifestyle issues that may contribute to fatigue, allowing employers to take appropriate action.
8. Think about the environment
General changes to the workplace can address fatigue and its accompanying risks, as there are a number of environmental factors that can contribute to feelings of tiredness. For example, fluorescent lighting or lighting that is too bright can contribute to eye strain and fatigue, so it may be appropriate to reduce lighting levels or fit dimmer switches.
Even music has been found to have a positive effect on fatigue, so it is important to consider creative methods for keeping staff engaged and happy.
9. Allow staff to take 40 winks
Some companies may find it appropriate to provide a ‘nap room’ for their employees, giving them somewhere to rest during the working day. This could be a cool, dark and quiet room for sleep breaks, complete with eye masks and ear plugs.
However, it may simply be a space for quiet reflection, allowing staff to take breaks in a peaceful space away from the usual pressures of the working day.
10. Encourage more active lifestyles
It may seem counterintuitive, but studies show expending energy by engaging in regular exercise may pay off with increased energy in the long run. So a walk may be better than a nap for boosting energy and fighting fatigue.
This means employers should consider offering exercise classes or discounted gym memberships to employees in order to encourage them to perform more regular exercise. But action in this area may also be as simple as allowing employees regular breaks to escape their working environments and take a short walk.