Managing Workforce Fatigue Maximizes Workforce Efficiency

Fatigue is often overlooked in employer safety programs, yet can be detrimental to an organization and put employees and their peers at risk.

By Corey Bergerhoefer

Eighty-two percent of employers think fatigue is a safety issue, and nearly all (92%) of employees in manufacturing settings agree. But are companies doing enough to combat it? In most cases, manufacturing companies focus on the obvious safety hazards in the workplace, everything from heat safety to fall risks — and all of these topics are important when it comes to safety. However, despite widespread acknowledgment that it’s an issue, fatigue still remains one of the most commonly overlooked areas in employer safety programs. It falls under the radar and can be overlooked easily, yet can be detrimental to an organization and put employees and their peers at risk.

worker fatigue
(Credit: shironosov / Getty Images)

June is National Safety Month as declared by the National Safety Council (NSC), so there’s no better time than the present to finally give workplace fatigue the attention it deserves at your next safety meeting.

Sleep Deprivation Isn’t The Only Thing That Can Impair Employees

We get it, life happens — and sometimes that means a good night’s sleep has to play second fiddle to your current priorities. It’s a common issue that many employees wrestle with in their pursuit of the perfect work-life balance. And it’s become such a problem, in fact, that the World Health Organization has officially named burnout — which includes workplace fatigue — as a recognized medical diagnosis. Industrial workers are not exempt from this phenomenon either. According to a recent fatigue report from the NSC, more than half (55%) of employers said they find employees sleeping on the job. However, there are a number of factors that contribute to workplace fatigue beyond not getting adequate sleep. Additional factors that can contribute to fatigue include:

  • Alcohol: A night out on the town or, in more serious cases, chronic drinking problems can have some employees stumbling into work in an already lethargic state.
  • Drugs: Some employees may take prescription/non-prescription drugs that impact their work productivity and concentration.
  • Grief: An employee could be dealing with a recent loss or experiencing another major life event.
  • Mental and physical illness: An individual could be managing a physical or unseen illness that could impact at-work performance.
  • Stress: Life can sometimes have its unforeseen challenges, and during these periods of increased stress, quality sleep can be hard to come by.

It’s important to also mention that the recent legalization of cannabis in Canada and certain regions in the U.S. has sparked a lot of discussion on the effects of driving while under the influence of marijuana, as well as the impact it can have on the job. Considering these are new and trending topics of discussion, and likely subject to some change, be sure to stay up to date on the latest policies regarding cannabis and the workplace in your area.

All of these examples are different, but all of them have one thing in common: the potential to induce fatigue. As an employer, it’s up to you to ensure you are aware of these possibilities and monitor your operations for red flags that could hurt both your employees and your workplace reputation.

Know How To Spot Signs Of Fatigue

A great company puts the safety of its employees first, this practice in itself builds rapport with existing workers and the surrounding community. Stakeholders, too, are typically in favor of companies that have a positive and trustworthy brand image, so you want to make sure you’re managing yours correctly. Identify if your workforce is at-risk of experiencing fatigue, and work with your team to help them know what to look out for while working. In your safety meetings, be sure to stress the importance of avoiding workplace fatigue from a health and safety standpoint, and detail the negative impact it could have on your company. Getting employees on the same page is the only way to cultivate a working relationship where everyone can hold themselves — and each other — accountable. While you’re waiting for that longer-term culture shift to take root, have senior-level management monitor employees daily for the signs that may signal an employee is potentially shutting down, like:

  • giddiness
  • headaches
  • irritability
  • lack of motivation
  • diminished alertness, concentration, and memory

Make workplace fatigue the main area of focus at your next safety meeting and pass out handy infographics with quick tips and stats to keep safety top of mind with your team. Create a reporting hierarchy to assess at-risk employees, contributing risk factors from a job task and ergonomic standpoint and integrate planning into your broader risk treatment strategies to address these opportunities. It’s important for workers to understand the dangers of workplace fatigue, and it’s also important for employers to promote safety to protect both their workers and their brand. Ultimately, having an open door policy and developing a workplace that promotes healthy living and a proper work-life balance is contagious. Provide tips on getting a great night’s sleep and emphasize the value it brings to the workforce at hand.

Stay Proactive And Remain Diligent

In honor of National Safety Month, take a moment to connect with your employees in an open setting and have a candid conversation about safety and workplace fatigue. Vulnerable organizations are those characterized as having a dangerous “no care culture.” When accidents occur, they accept them as simply part of the cost of doing business and do very little to address the underlying causes. If you work on other, more overt safety issues but neglect to address workplace fatigue, you may never achieve the safety excellence goal your organization is striving for. Be the business that promotes a restful night’s sleep and encourages a proper self-care regimen, especially if your day-to-day operations are more physically demanding than most. The amount of work you’ll need to do to get there will vary depending on where you are on the safety maturity scale, so it’s important to assess weaknesses in your safety program and quickly identify what changes you need to make. If you eliminate the hazards that lead to minor injuries, you’ll be contributing to a critical decrease in the toll that safety issues can take on your workplace.

Workforce FatigueCorey Berghoefer is a risk management expert with over a decade’s worth of experience in safety and risk management, underwriting and loss control, claims management, and risk financing, accounting and insurance. As senior vice president of risk management and insurance at Randstad, the largest staffing firm in the world and third largest in the United States, Corey manages a department of 47 risk professionals with the goal of implementing proven risk management strategies into Randstad’s overall business platform. Under Corey’s direction, Randstad has become acclaimed for its enterprise-wide risk management strategies, workers’ compensation practices and comprehensive focus on talent safety. Corey holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame and an MBA from the University of Georgia.