Fatigue in the Workplace

By Andreea Hanko

What is work fatigue and who has it? 

Work fatigue is much more than just tiredness. Fatigue can make it hard to even get out of bed in the morning and prevents a person from fulfilling their daily duties. There are different types of work fatigue. There’s both the physical and mental aspect. Usually, a person experiencing fatigue finds it physically hard to do the things they usually do such as climbing the stairs or getting out of bed in the morning.

Job fatigue is one of the most common forms of fatigue that people experience at some point in their careers. They feel overwhelmed and stressed out, unmotivated and exhausted with their jobs. Some individuals dread going to work and feel tired of completing the same tasks over and over again. They are constantly looking for a change of scenery and new challenging and meaningful tasks.

Employers and supervisors should be concerned about the impact of fatigue in the workplace as it can be considered a workplace hazard. Some of the factors that can influence workplace fatigue are: shift rotation patterns, unbalanced workloads, the timing of tasks and activities, scarcity of resources, bad workplace environment and minimal sleep. It’s important for supervisors to measure, understand and determine  what causes fatigue to be able to design work environments where workers can be energized, motivated and productive. 

Don’t ignore the body’s signs

The problem with work fatigue is that most people fail to acknowledge it as a problem. People tend to ignore it due to fear of change, because they are afraid of stepping out of their comfort zones or questioning the status quo.  Whether you feel overwhelmed with stress, anxiety or tiredness, facing and acknowledging your own work fatigue can seem daunting. Usually, the first thing to do when fatigue kicks in is to make necessary changes in your lifestyle.

Taking necessary breaks, making changes in your home routine, exercising regularly, observing changes in your diet, and learning to manage stress can all help alleviate work fatigue. It is also very important to learn how to measure fatigue, because measuring it is not simply asking someone if they feel tired today, it is much more complex. Apparently, fatigue can be measured by assessing an individual’s sustained attention and reaction using a PVT (psychomotor vigilance tool), a small electronic box with buttons and lights. Basically when the light flashes, an individual must press a button and wait for their reaction to be measured.

Young female engineer exhausted with workload working in industrial factory – labourer stressed, fatigued and possibly thinking about occupational health and safety.

Another method of measuring fatigue is using the saliva-based Hyperion method where saliva samples are collected and monitored effectively. This method has been used to monitor and measure athletes’ performance. Regardless of the method chosen, the lesson here is to understand and accept the importance of measuring the body’s fatigue because nobody wants to be burned out in the workplace and nobody wants fatigued employees. 

What do we do about fatigue?

Fatigue is practically inescapable in today’s work worlds, no matter what your grade. We all are bound to experience fatigue at some point or another in our careers. One way to overcome job fatigue is to learn to accept its inevitability and at least try to understand how it manifests in symptoms, and how it is measured and learn how it can be countered effectively.  Employers and employees should both learn how to identify and observe patterns in job fatigue and use the many techniques outlined above to record and eliminate fatigue to ensure that all of us lead happy and healthy work lives. 

Andreea Hanko has a BA in Management from York University and lives in Toronto.

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