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Workplace Fatigue Explained

Workplace fatigue occurs when employees experience increasing difficulty in performing mental and physical tasks due to factors such as inadequate restorative sleep, health issues or emotional stress. Often affecting night shift workers and those with irregular schedules, chronic workplace fatigue can negatively impact mental, emotional, and physical well-being if not managed properly. Identifying and addressing fatigue is crucial for both employee health and overall job performance.

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What Are Common Workplace Fatigue Risk Factors?

While workplace fatigue can be easy to dismiss early on, it can lead to more serious problems such as impaired functioning and chronic health concerns. For some employees, admitting to work fatigue can be a challenge in itself — often due to a competitive work culture or fear of losing out on a promotion. Employers can even be complicit in perpetuating such fears, sometimes placing demands on employees to work beyond regular hours.

But workplace fatigue is a safety topic that must be identified and managed accordingly. Employers and employees alike should recognize the common risk factors associated with workplace fatigue, which can include:

  • Fast-paced or mentally demanding work
  • Irregular shift schedules or consecutive night shifts
  • More than 50 average hours per workweek
  • Bad sleep quality
  • Boring, repetitive and monotonous work
  • Physically demanding work
  • Long commuting hours
  • Personal health issues
  • Little or no break time
  • Stressful, noisy work environments
  • Dim lighting or overly bright lighting

What Are Common Workplace Fatigue Symptoms?

Symptoms of workplace fatigue can surface at any point in an employee’s tenure, but they aren’t always easy for others to spot. Sometimes, workplace fatigue goes unrecognized until the employee experiences significant health problems or leaves due to burnout. Spotting signs of workplace fatigue early is not only an important factor in employee retention, but also in overall employee health.

Workplace fatigue symptoms can range from mild to severe, occasional to chronic and imperceptible to highly noticeable. They can surface as a direct result of workplace environmental factors such as working conditions, working hours, the nature of the work and others, and they can also be caused by more indirect factors such as sleep trouble or personal health problems. However, it’s important to remember that stress factors at work often affect every aspect of daily life.

With an attentive eye, symptoms of fatigue can be easy to recognize both in your work environment and those of others. Once you’re able to identify symptoms of work fatigue, you can begin to manage them.

Common symptoms of work fatigue include:

  • Reduced alertness
  • Slow reaction time
  • Impaired memory and other cognitive functions
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty keeping your eyes open
  • Impaired vision
  • Loss of appetite
  • Digestive problems
  • Impaired decision-making
  • Loss of situational awareness
  • Isolation
  • Performance decrement
  • Falling asleep at work
  • Loss of drive and motivation
  • Depression

How Can You Mitigate Workplace Fatigue?

It is important for all employees to know the signs and symptoms of fatigue for self-recognition of fatigue, or recognition of fatigue in a co-worker.

Simply put, fatigue is fatigue; however, fatigue can either be work-related or non-work related, and one influences the other. The difference is that work-related fatigue needs to be managed by employers, while non-work related fatigue needs to be managed by the individual. For example, an employer can provide 16 hours between shifts, yet if an employee’s personal life only allows for 6 hours of sleep, that employee will be at an increased risk for fatigue and an incident or injury.

The long-term health effects of fatigue associated with shift work and chronic sleep loss may include heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, gastrointestinal disorders and depression. Of course, of equal concern are the near term safety consequences of fatigue, which would include decreased alertness, higher error rates, slowed reaction time, poor judgment of performance when assessing risk, inability to remember sequences of events, injuries and accidents.

Creating a Fatigue Toolbox

Managing fatigue is an important component of creating and maintaining a healthy, productive work environment. Once workplace fatigue is identified, employers and employees alike need a structured plan of action for combatting workplace fatigue and preventing it from recurring. Having workplace fatigue management toolbox talks can help people on both sides of the fatigue safety topic equation.

Here is a toolbox for talking points on workplace fatigue that employers and employees can use to reduce workplace fatigue:


  • Place a workweek limit of 55 hours per week
  • Create a policy on second jobs, but compensate workers sufficiently
  • Allow for adequate break time
  • Encourage carpooling in case of drowsiness
  • Eliminate repetitive, boring work
  • Provide training to allow multitasking and effective job rotation
  • Encourage healthy eating and an overall healthy lifestyle
  • Check in with employees about workplace well-being
  • Educate employees on fatigue causes and symptoms
  • Optimize work conditions including ergonomics, lighting, glare and ventilation
  • Incorporate weekly or monthly fatigue safety talks, or “fatigue safety moments”


  • Give yourself enough time to ensure you get sufficient sleep
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine consumption for better sleep quality
  • Night shift workers need to maintain a strict routine for diet and sleep
  • Incorporate daily exercise
  • Arrive at work alert and ready to perform required tasks

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