Exhaustion at Work: The Effects of Fatigue in the Workplace

Fatigue is not just feeling tired. Fatigue is long-term exhaustion caused by sleep deprivation, diet, mental or physical illness, which leads to low energy and motivation. In the workplace, fatigue can often go unnoticed, or can be attributed to a natural side effect of a busy working lifestyle.

Fatigue should not be normalised in the workplace. Feeling constantly drained and a severe lack of energy is a sign that your physical or mental health is struggling. This can impact not only your work, but your personal life too.

This can be an issue which many employees feel unable to communicate. In a study by Westfield health, 86% of workers felt they were unable to talk to their manager about the impact of tiredness on their performance at work. Unfortunately, British workplace culture does not acknowledge this as an issue.

The Dangers of Exhaustion at Work

Fatigue and exhaustion can have a dangerous impact of physical and mental health. Many health issues can stem from over-exhaustion, as 1 in 5 visits to the GP are related to tiredness and fatigue (National Hydration Council Survey of 300 GPs). Mentally, exhaustion can lead to high levels of stress and irritability, which can impact fellow colleagues and create a potentially unpleasant working environment. Fatigue can also be an indicator that an employee’s mental health is struggling, so it’s important that managers are able to spot these signs as early as possible to give employees the help they need.

The dangers of fatigue can be more immediate. Alarmingly, 3 in 10 have had an accident or made a serious mistake due to being tired at work. Not only does this effect the individual’s performance, but this can also cause severe stress and anxiety, as well as potential risk of physical injury in certain jobs. For example, employees in construction and manufacturing industry can suffer potentially life-changing accidents: one individual described trapping their hand in a machine due to fatigue, resulting in a disability. Another employee reported having an accident during a 66-hour week which resulted in a three-day coma. In addition, accidents can also happen outside of work, as a shocking 13% admitted they had drifted to sleep whilst driving as a result of workplace exhaustion.

What Can Employers Do?

Fatigue has an immeasurable impact on productivity and concentration in the workplace. 59% of people admitted that fatigue has made them less productive at work. Over 1 in 10 also admitted to having taken a nap at work, which loses time and money for the company. Therefore, it should be an employers priority to help their workforce to combat exhaustion and fatigue, not only to encourage better performance at work but also to support their employee’s long-term health and wellbeing.

Most importantly, employees feel unable to communicate the effects of fatigue at work with their employers. According to studies, 16% believe their managers could do more to reduce the risk of accidents and mistakes at work due to fatigue and stress. Employees want more from their managers, however it can be difficult to openly ask for help.

The first step for managers is to create an open and honest environment where their workforce can discuss the impact of exhaustion on their performance and can ask for help where needed. This will not only aid productivity and retain staff, but will also make your workplace a desirable work environment. Implementing health and wellbeing awareness and strategies can help to create conversation around employee wellbeing and encourage employees to discuss these issues more openly, rather than suffering in silence.