Is fatigue a mental health hazard in your workplace?

Category: Health & Safety
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Is fatigue a mental health hazard in your workplace?

Is fatigue a mental health hazard in your workplace?

In August, the Sleep Health Foundation runs Sleep Awareness Week to promote a better
understanding of 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 the organizational risk of injury and absenteeism.

Typically, the conversation around fatigue hazard is centered 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 is 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 the risk of injury, mentally healthy workplaces should try to protect employees from, 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, including 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 well-being 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 they 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
behavioral signs.

  • Emotional: difficulty concentrating, less productive, lacking motivation 
  • Physical: headaches, body aches and increased illness like colds and flu
  • Behavioral: 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 and 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 enroll 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 a shift start. Unbeknownst 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 personalizes 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 a 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 recharge or improve sleep at home.

_______

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 well-being management for all employees. Our combined solution can be
accessed for all workers with one login, removing disconnected systems and enabling consolidated
reporting.

If you want to book a demo and find out how Donesafe and Uprise can help your organization, click here.


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