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Is fatigue a mental health hazard in your workplace?

mental fatigue

In August, the Sleep Health Foundation runs Sleep Awareness Week to promote better understanding on the effects of sleep quality on our lives. This year, workplaces are focusing more than ever on the importance of identifying and managing fatigue in the workplace.

Fatigue reduces the ability to work safely and effectively. It affects workers across a range of industries and can significantly increase organizational risk of injury and absenteeism.

Typically, the conversation around fatigue hazard is centred around the physical exhaustion of workers who are on shifts, on-call or driving. As a result, most risk management is focused on optimizing work scheduling to ensure safe working conditions for these workers.

However, there are a range of mental health hazards related to fatigue that should be taken into consideration. Mentally healthy workplaces should acknowledge and proactively manage both physical and mental fatigue. This management should not only prevent fatigue related accidents, but also motivate, engage and improve the quality of life of your employees.

Donesafe is a risk management platform that has partnered with Uprise to prevent mental health hazards like fatigue from arising in the workplace. Uprise is a proactive employee assistance program that prevents the development of mental health hazards by improving employee resilience to stress and fatigue.

What is mental fatigue?

Mental fatigue can feel similar to physical fatigue, but it is instead caused by ongoing or intensive mental work. It could be due to stress or organizational change at work, as well as a personal stressor at home. These factors can increase exhaustion during the day and limit the quality or length of sleep in the evening. 

Mental exhaustion can be due to sleep deprivation, alertness will suffer while most aspects critical for physical performance will retain. Sleep loss affects mood, motivation, judgment, situational awareness, memory, and alertness, whereas it does not directly affect physical ability, performance capability, or muscle strength. But, time-to-physical-exhaustion is shorter and the perception of exertion and endurance is distorted.

A key difference between mental fatigue and physical fatigue, is that mental fatigue accumulates and dissipates in a way that is much more complex and difficult to predict. This makes it much more challenging for workplaces to address and support mental fatigue, particularly after it has accumulated. 

To reduce risk of injury, mentally healthy workplaces should try to protect and prevent mental fatigue in the workplace like they do with physical fatigue. You can take some simple steps in your workplace to improve the early identification and management of this common mental health hazard.

Offer proactive mental health support 

Mental stress from work or home can accumulate and contribute to mental fatigue. As employers, it is our responsibility to reduce mental fatigue and exhaustion proactively, particularly if it is caused by the work environment. 

Many employers offer an employee assistance program (EAP), where an employee can seek counselling support for a mental health condition or work-related issue. In the case of mental health fatigue, reactive counselling allows this exhaustion to build up in a way that may mean it is a significant hazard before it is treated. There are also many barriers to employees seeking counselling support like stigma, time commitment and awareness. 

To prevent mental health fatigue, employers can offer an employee assistance program that is proactive rather than reactive. Proactive employee assistance assesses employee wellbeing and stress over time and offers training in resilience and stress management before it gets worse. Donesafe has recently partnered with Uprise, a proactive employee assistance provider that improves the sleep quality of its users. Uprise seamlessly connects with the Donesafe platform. In 2018, employees who used Uprise reported an average improvement of 10% in their sleep quality as a result.

Educate employees on sleep quality 

In general, everyone knows that they should be getting a good night’s sleep each night. However, it can be difficult to know exactly what this looks and feels like for different people. Generally, the consensus is that employees should get seven to nine hours of sleep per night.

Internationally acclaimed sleep scientist, Professor Drew Dawson, suggests that employees with less than six hours of sleep will be at double the risk of an accident. Educate your employees on these figures to ensure employees are aware of safe levels of sleep for work. This can also allow them to bring up any personal or work-related issues that are inhibiting their ability to sleep.

Train managers to identify fatigue 

Managers should be monitoring the workplace for fatigue hazards to ensure that work conditions are safe. As a manager, you should be able to identify some of the different emotional, physical and behavioural signs. 

  • Emotional: difficulty concentrating, less productive, lacking motivation 
  • Physical: headaches, body aches and increased illness like colds and flu
  • Behavioural: social withdrawal, inability to meet work commitments

As part of this assessment, managers should also consult workers about the impact of their workload and work schedule on their life and energy levels. To ensure these meet safety requirements, you may also want to check working records, sign-out sheets and review any relevant workplace incident data. 

If you notice a hazard, it’s important to reach out to the employee and share with them your understanding of mental fatigue. You could provide them with some resources to improve sleep or refer them to the workplace employee assistance program. 

Donesafe automates this process by looking for mental fatigue identifiers and triggering a proactive employee assistance program.

For example, a group of workers who are employed for shift-work in a factory are inherently prone to fatigue risk – and are a hazard to themselves and others if not mentally fit for work. As a part of their induction, there is a trigger that recommends they enrol in the Uprise program and complete the improving sleep module. This training works to proactively prevent the development of fatigue and educate employees on skills that reduce mental health risk factors.

To manage this risk, when they are about to embark on the shift each worker completes a quick self assessment (see image below) in Donesafe prior to shift start. Unknown to the worker, Donesafe crunches the data and recommends a course of action (see image below) to the worker based on their answers. The shift manager gets notified in real-time of at risk workers, and Donesafe may trigger a reminder to the employee about the improving sleep module as part of the Uprise Employee Assistance Program. This personalises training by recommending relevant skills to individuals who are at risk for fatigue or other mental stressors. 

Self assessment in Donesafe
Donesafe crunches the data and recommends a course of action

Employers received aggregated de-identified information at the end of each quarter that outlines improvements in wellbeing, stress and sleep quality.  

Encourage open communication

It is well known that there is stigma in most workplaces surrounding mental health. Due to this stigma, employees may not feel comfortable reporting if they feel unfit to work due to fatigue. It is vital that managers open this conversation early by encouraging employees to monitor their own levels of alertness and concentration while at work. 

As a manager, make sure you check in regularly with your employees about how they are coping with work. This can be particularly useful during intensive periods when you yourself may be feeling exhausted. Try to share your own experiences in a way that encourages them to talk about it. You can even recommend techniques that you use to re-charge or improve sleep at home. 

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This article was provided by Uprise, a proactive Employee Assistance Program and Donesafe certified partner. Uprise and Donesafe offer an integrated platform to manage all your health, safety, compliance and wellbeing management for all employees. With our combined solution which can be accessed for all workers with one login, removing disconnected systems and enabling consolidated reporting.

If you want to learn more about the Donesafe and Uprise partnership

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