In the face of budget and staff cuts, many of us have to work harder, faster, and longer than ever before. While advanced technology and time-management techniques can help, these excessive workloads ultimately result in fatigue, which leads to more illness, errors, and accidents; higher healthcare costs; and decreased productivity. In total, the global cost of fatigue has surpassed $500 billion.
When employers play an active role in keeping their employees healthy, productive, and engaged, the company is more successful.
Based on a survey of 352 human resources and/or health-benefits managers in the U.S. and Canada with 1000 employees or more, the companies with the most effective health and productivity programs had 11 percent higher revenue per employee and 28 percent higher shareholder returns. Read on to learn more about employee health, productivity, and workplace fatigue.
What is Fatigue? How to manage it?
Fatigue isn’t just about feeling tired or sleepy; it’s more about lack of energy and exhaustion. It impacts physical performance by reducing reaction time and motor coordination. Fatigue also impairs mental performance, including alertness, attentiveness, and motivation.
After being awake for 17 to 19 hours, cognitive psychomotor performance becomes impaired to the same extent as having a blood alcohol level of 0.05 percent (the legal limit is under 0.08 percent in the U.S., but is 0.05 percent or less in many other countries). But it’s not just lack of sleep that causes fatigue. Poor nutrition, dehydration, exertion, stress, and more can influence fatigue.
Fatigue Management Tips and Tricks for Employees
Fatigue can sometimes be a nonspecific symptom of a more serious problem. It’s important to consult a physician to rule out medical conditions including diabetes, depression, obstructive sleep apnea, hypothyroid disease, anemia, narcolepsy, vitamin D deficiency, and undiagnosed heart disease—all of which can have some similar symptoms.
Infections, such as a sinus or urinary tract infection, and uncontrolled allergies can cause fatigue too. Certain medications, including some muscle relaxants, antibiotics, sedative-hypnotics (medications to reduce tension and bring on sleep), blood-pressure medications, antidepressants, and antihistamines can also bring on fatigue.
The good news is, even if all known medical reasons are ruled out, there are ways to cope with fatigue in the workplace.
Get Better Sleep
While meetings, monotonous tasks, and long drives can be boring, they shouldn’t lull anyone to sleep. If day-to-day responsibilities have you nodding off on the job, you’re probably not getting enough—or the right type—of sleep. In one poll, 60 percent of responders say they have a sleep problem, such as snoring, waking up too early, waking in the middle of the night, or feeling unrefreshed, every night or nearly every night.
According to annual Sleep in America polls, we’re getting 26 minutes less sleep than we say we optimally need. Most people say they need seven to eight hours to feel rested.
Don’t just shut off the lights and expect to fall asleep. Get into a relaxing routine of quiet reading or stretching before bedtime.
Because melatonin (a naturally-occurring hormone that makes us sleepy) is produced in the dark, complete darkness is critical to get a refreshing night’s sleep. Since light can pass through closed eyelids, consider blackout shades or an eye mask.
Blue light emitted from TVs, computers, cellphones, and tablets can delay and decrease melatonin.
Throughout the evening our bodies go through 90-minute sleep cycles ranging from light sleep to deep sleep and then back to light sleep. Any interruption, even if it doesn’t fully wake you, prevents the deep sleep necessary to heal and recover.
Get 30 Minutes of Daylight Every Day
Every cell in the human body runs on a nearly 24-hour cycle. But it’s not exact. On average, our bodies tend to have a 24-hour and 12-minute cycle, making it difficult to feel sleepy at the same time every day. Bright light early in the day helps the body to readjust back to a normal 24-hour cycle.
Fuel Up with Energizing Nutrition
Food and oxygen create the energy we need to stay alive. For peak performance, refuel with the right type of food, at the right time, in the right quantity.
Every day, 1 to 2 percent of the body breaks down and needs to be rebuilt. This requires 20 to 35 grams of protein at every meal. That’s equivalent to one piece of meat the size of the palm of your hand (about a 3-ounce serving), a three-egg omelet, or a veggie patty with a side of legumes
Carbohydrates turn into glucose, the fuel our brain and red blood cells run on. So it’s important to add a couple servings of carbs at every meal, including whole grain bread, pasta, and rice, and plenty of fruits and vegetables. If you don’t eat enough carbohydrates, the body converts protein into the required amount of glucose.
When it comes to having consistent energy throughout the day, many of us are better off eating smaller meals and snacks. Healthy snacks include yogurt, fruit, raw veggies and hummus, fruit and low-fat cheese, and air-popped popcorn.
Take Regular Recovery Breaks
The human body continually experiences 90-minute cycles in alertness, not only during sleep but during the day as well. Therefore, we tend to be more productive if we work hard for about 90 minutes and then take a short break to reboot energy and improve mood, willpower, creativity, and decision-making abilities. Breaks can include:
Increase Movement throughout the Day
Movement improves energy, mood, memory, body composition, health, and productivity. The more you sit, the greater your risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and death from all causes. That relationship holds true for regular exercisers who work out for an hour but still spend a lot of time sitting.
Stress isn’t caused by what happens to us; it’s based on how we think about what happens to us. In response to danger, the body promptly responds with the fight or flight reaction. While the reaction can be lifesaving, experiencing it over and over again is actually life threatening and exhausting. To help manage and prevent stressful thoughts and feelings:
Employers, Here’s How You Can Manage Workplace Fatigue
Schedule Sleep Regulations
About one-quarter of transportation workers, including pilots, train operators, and truck drivers, admit sleepiness has affected their performance at least once a week (versus 17 percent for non-transportation workers). Factors involved include getting fewer hours of sleep, long work days, and having less time between shifts, all of which can be improved by implementing and maintaining industry guidelines.
Institute Sleep Testing and Treatment
Long-haul drivers were twice as likely to be obese than the national working population, which increases the risk for obstructive sleep apnea. Schedule sleep screening and treatment for such employees.
Establish Nap Policies and Nap Rooms
In the 1990s, NASA experimented with the use of naps during long flights and found that 26 minutes of sleep improved cognitive performance by 34 percent and alertness by 54 percent. Currently, airline pilots on international flights alternate taking short naps to stay alert.
More recent research shows brief naps (five to 15 minutes) can reduce sleepiness and improve cognitive performance for up to three hours afterward. Napping seems to be more beneficial for people who regularly nap, compared to people who only do so on occasion.
Brighten Up the Office
Bright lights at work helps keep people alert, especially when working on shifts outside daytime hours. Because nighttime sleepiness increases errors and slows reaction time, bright lights are recommended to counter some of these effects.
Offer Nutritious Food and Drinks
Providing free or reduced cost meals and snacks encourage employees to stop and refuel. Offer healthy options in the break room, such as fresh or dried fruit, unsalted nuts, bean chips, popcorn, hummus and raw veggies, Greek yogurt, and bars with simple ingredients like fruit and nuts. Provide easy access to chilled, filtered water coolers, herbal teas, coffee, and more.
Encourage Movement throughout the Day
Fitness isn’t just important for employees’ physical health. Regular movement improves energy, mood, memory, and productivity.
Monitor Hours Worked
Contrary to popular belief, working more than 60 hours a week does not improve productivity. It only increases stress and burnout.
Provide Stress Management Tools
The “fight or flight” response of our stress hormones allows us to maneuver a vehicle out of a potential crash (fight) or face the urge to run out of the room when ill prepared for a meeting (flight). While sometimes life saving, the initial sharp state of alertness from a stress response can leave you exhausted. Here are some proven strategies to release the stress hormones from your body.
While energy slumps are natural during the day, they don’t have to be so severe that productivity suffers. With just a few changes in the way you eat, think, move, and sleep you can keep your energy up all day long.
The original article appeared here.
Image credit: belfasttelegraph.co.uk