Practical Steps to Help Your Team Combat Work Fatigue

February 28, 2024 hr-observer-2024-teamcombatworkfatigue

It’s common to have days when we feel less motivated about work than others. However, sustained fatigue can significantly impact employees and their organisation, increasing the risk of accidents and injuries, reducing productivity, and causing absenteeism. Furthermore, if work fatigue doesn’t get addressed, it turns to burnout, which has even more severe consequences.

Some of the signs that people might be struggling with work-related fatigue include:

  1. Exhaustion or lack of energy, especially at work
  2. Work dissatisfaction
  3. Not wanting to go to work 
  4. Being overly reactive or easily overwhelmed

This can progress into burnout if people consistently work an excessive number of hours, or face a level of work pressure which pervades into their time outside of work, without having proper breaks and the space to switch off. The APA Dictionary of Psychology defines burnout as “physical, emotional or mental exhaustion, accompanied by decreased motivation, lowered performance and negative attitudes towards oneself and others.” 
Some of the signs are similar to fatigue, but they become more severe. 

  1. Extreme exhaustion that impacts focus and potentially memory
  2. Work dissatisfaction
  3. Not wanting to go to work, which could be indicated as coming in late or work absenteeism.
  4. Sunday blues (dreading work starting the next day)
  5. Being irritable or stressed 
  6. Feeling overwhelmed
  7. Lowered immunity
  8. Frequent physical symptoms like headaches or body pains
  9. Social isolation or wanting to isolate
  10. Changes in sleep or appetite

Unfortunately, burnout is an escalating problem for workplaces worldwide. Work burnout incidence rates in 2023 have been reported to be as high as 62%. 40% of workers have left their jobs because of burnout, women are over 21% more likely to experience work-related stress, and 70% of professionals feel that employers aren’t doing enough to prevent and alleviate burnout. In addition, workplace stress costs the US economy an average of $300 billion per year.

Are some people more susceptible?  

Burnout is more prevalent in millennials and women. Women may be more susceptible due to difficulties with work-life balance and moving between a high-pressure job and responsibilities at home. Millennials have been reported to be more prone to burnout due to a sense of loneliness, financial stressors and a lower sense of autonomy.  Individuals who work remotely have also reported increased instances of burnout. This is thought to be due to the blurred boundaries between work and home, which might make them feel they cannot switch off from work or must always be available. In work-from-home roles, the lack of socialisation might also be a factor that leads to burnout.  

Individuals who are extremely passionate about their work are also the ones who are more likely to burnout as they do not practice good work-life balance. As their work energizes them, they do not prioritise other hobbies and interests or regular self-care.  

Managers also often report high rates of burnout as they are exhausted from a combination of high workloads and limited resources. This is more for front-line managers who might have less of a sense of meaningfulness in their work, while senior managers often have a sense of autonomy, along with the purpose and meaning associated with their work. 

Burnout is also highly associated with high achievers, who tend to be driven by a sense of perfectionism and achievement. However, as part of their perfectionism, the more they achieve, the more they tend to push themselves. This makes them more likely to neglect self-care and have poor work-life boundaries. With those who strive for perfection, their self-worth is highly dependent on their achievements, so as their motivation decreases or their cynicism increases, they quickly find it harder to achieve, negatively impacting them and their sense of well-being.   

How can employees help themselves deal with work fatigue, increase their motivation and avoid burnout? 

  • Set clear boundaries with work to help you have a good work-life balance. This means having vacations or time off where you genuinely switch off. Sleep is also an important component – ensure you get 6-8 hours of sleep per night and time off when you need it. 
  • Improve your stress-management techniques. Incorporate self-care, hobbies and interests as part of your routine. You need to develop your passions outside of work to ensure a good work-life balance with things that you look forward to. This will also help ensure you are refreshed and energized. 
  • Lean on your support system both personally and if needed, professionally. Spending time with and talking to loved ones, family and friends, is a healthy way to destress and it makes us feel connected. If you need help with stress management or learning tools to help navigate the issues that led to burnout or the after-effects of burnout, a professional can help. 
  • Set realistic goals – at work and in other areas of life. If you have previously been a high achiever, you have probably pushed yourself very hard to achieve your goals. Learn to say no and set realistic goals of what you can achieve with realistic timelines. 

What can companies do to tackle the fatigue problem?

According to Christina Maslach of the University of California, Berkeley, Susan E. Jackson of Rutgers, and Michael Leiter of Deakin University, burnout has six main causes: 

  1. Unsustainable workload
  2. Perceived lack of control
  3. Insufficient rewards for effort
  4. Lack of a supportive community
  5. Lack of fairness
  6. Mismatched values and skills

As you can see, most of these are factors that are not in the individual’s control. To ensure that employees don’t burnout companies can do the below: 

  • Create a psychologically safe workplace environment where every individual feels safe to bring up any issues, which will help them speak up when they are overworked or if they have any concerns about their workload, colleagues, or their mental well-being. 
  • Ensure regular communication with employees to reflect on their roles and have open conversations with their managers about what energizes them, what gives meaning at work, and what detracts from it. 
  • Flexibility and control at work can significantly help. Allowing for the work hours and location to be flexible will help ensure employees can focus on a good work-life balance. 
  • Ensure that good work-life balance is encouraged and modeled by senior leaders as well. 
Lavina Ahuja

Clinical Psychologist at the German Neuroscience Center

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