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Fatigue: Contributing to Mistakes at Work

FatigueWhen we consider fatigue in the workplace, it is easy to immediately think of a driver working a 12-hour shift, or a construction worker operating heavy machinery. Although managing fatigue is extremely important in the construction and transport industries, fatigue can affect us all.

When we are fatigued, we make mistakes.

Whether your mistake means you crash some machinery or send an email to the wrong person, making mistakes means that you aren’t performing at your best.

When we’re fatigued our effectiveness declines, lowering team effectiveness and ultimately organisational productivity. And putting productivity aside, making mistakes just doesn’t feel nice. Yes, it’s always useful to treat mistakes as learning opportunities, but it’s not a pleasant feeling when you realise you’ve sent an internal email to a client, missed an important meeting, or forgotten a key deliverable.

A recent study in the US found that close to half of employed Americans feel distracted by fatigue which causes them to make mistakes and sometimes fall asleep on the job. The study, commissioned by Red Bull and Glassdoor, found that 66% of workers admit they have made mistakes at work when they were tired. A staggering 41% reported fatigue meant they forget essential job items. Deadlines are also missed due to fatigue; the study also found that 21% of workers had missed a meeting and 16% had missed a deadline due to tiredness.

So what can you do when you catch yourself making mistakes because you’re fatigued at work? The real solution is sleep, and if you can, take a power nap before getting on with the rest of your day. But sometimes it’s not possible to have a nap. Here are some ways to help you keep alert at work before you can get some more sleep:

  • Keep hydrated: our brain needs water to thrive. Keeping up your water intake can help prevent dehydration and get your brain working as effectively as it can.
  • Eat breakfast: food gives our body energy to burn throughout the day. No food = no energy = fatigue. Try to have foods with low GI to give you sustained energy throughout the day.
  • Go for a walk outside: take some time out and get some fresh air and sunlight. Getting natural sunlight helps to regulate your body clock and the gentle exercise is invigorating.
  • Take deep breaths: breathing deeply gets more oxygen into your body (and helps to reduce stress!). A nice method is to breathe in for 4 counts, hold for 2 counts, and then breathe out for 6 counts.
  • Don’t overeat (especially at lunchtime): overeating can mean that your body is using up energy digesting your big meal. Eating a big lunch can also lead to a post-lunch energy crash right when you need to be getting on with your day.

At the end of the day, sleep is the only thing that can fight fatigue and get rid of fatigue-caused mistakes. These techniques will help you get through the day and hopefully, minimise mistakes and stop you from getting distracted at work when you are fatigued.
Contact TMS if you and your staff need help managing fatigue and its impacts at work.

Sally Cutts, Consultant Psychologist

Sally is a Registered Psychologist with a Master degree in Organisational Psychology. She has a well-developed knowledge of change management principles and methodologies, psychosocial safety in the workplace, organisational development, and team development.