Managing Fatigue in the Workplace

It’s easy to imagine truck drivers, nurses, and first responders struggling to stay awake on the job, but fatigue impacts every occupation at every level. Fatigue includes physical tiredness, feeling mentally overwhelmed, even boredom. It’s easy to normalize fatigue – to accept it as a natural consequence of doing business, however, doing so not only hurts employees, it hurts a company’s bottom line.

In October 2019, I had the pleasure of leading a Fatigue Risk Management workshop with Palmer Johnson Power Systems. In that workshop, we reviewed why fatigue matters, how to quantify fatigue, and what safeguards to put in place so fatigue is less likely to hurt the employees or company as a whole.

If you haven’t addressed fatigue in your workplace, here’s what you need to know to get started.

Why Fatigue Matters

Two out of three employed Americans say they’ve made mistakes at work because of fatigue. Mistakes range from trivial to severe: from making a mistake in an email (22%), missing a button or wearing mismatched shoes (23%), addressing a colleague by the wrong name (or sending an email to the wrong “Bob”) (24%), to missing a meeting or other job duties (41%).

Even though 93% of workers say they’ve taken action to boost their energy, these mistakes still happen. That means whatever actions people are taking isn’t enough.

Workplace 2020

By 2025 Millennials will account for 75% of the workforce.

This is a problem if your company isn’t prepared to handle the high turnover rates associated with Millennial employees. Millennials stay in their jobs an average of only 2 years! For Gen X, that average was 5 years; for Baby Boomers, that average was 7 years.

When employees leave, their departure costs employers 33% of that employee’s base pay, according to the Work Institute. This cost includes time spent screening new candidates, onboarding them, and having another employee change what they’re doing to cover the work until a new candidate is found, hired, and brought up to speed.

The 5 Levels of Fatigue

The 5 Levels of Fatigue is based on the science of how caffeine affects the body and on the Fatigue Risk Management system outlined by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Related Resources: How to use the 5 Levels of Fatigue for Caffeine

For each level, there is a different strategy for managing fatigue. This adaptive strategy allows individuals and companies to identify when to “push through” the fatigue and when real changes need to be made. Someone who is falling asleep standing isn’t going to feel better after a short walk and a glass of water. Someone who is constantly Stressed Out and Struggling may need to make more permanent changes than someone who just has to work extra hours once a year for a certain deadline.

Palmer Johnson Power Systems is already addressing fatigue in the workplace using 3 of the 5 recommended strategies.

  • They already adjust workload and staffing during their busy season.
  • They’ve reorganized their warehouse to optimize Workplace Design.
  • They’ve initiated Employee Fatigue Training by completing the GreenEyedGuide Fatigue Risk Management workshop.

What’s Next?

Managing fatigue in the workplace should be an ongoing process of corrective action and preventive action. There are always improvements to be made and ways to adapt to changes in workload, technological advances, and workforce mentality. Building a Fatigue Risk Management System doesn’t have to happen all at once; the most important thing isn’t to get it perfect, it’s to get started.


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