Create a healthier and more productive workforce by preventing fatigue at work, says Ann Hall
Fatigue might not seem like a big deal but it decreases our ability to respond to situations and zaps our energy. It is a risk factor for injury.
We have all had those days where we are working intensely at our computers not taking breaks and under a great deal of stress. At the end of that day we are exhausted. We didn’t do heavy physical activity, rather we worked too hard, for too long. For many of us this means that when we get home we crash.
If this happens every once in a while that is one thing, but many people repeat this pattern every work day. Can you imagine the stress that places on their health? How it affects their quality of life?
To prevent this ongoing cycle, employees must learn to manage fatigue by balancing and pacing themselves throughout the day. The skill of pace is not one that comes easy for many. You have to remind yourself to slow down and take small breaks along the way to achieve overall endurance.
Ask a runner how they pace themselves for a race. The answer will vary depending on the distance, difficulty of the course, environmental factors and their personal health condition. There are many things to consider in order to know how to pace yourself in order to have a good, safe, comfortable run, rather than a run where you are puking a mile from the finish line.
One study analysed elite performers spanning from musicians to athletes to chess players. The study concluded that more rest can maximize achievement. This goes against what many of us practice.
We arrive to work, focus on the task at hand and go as hard as we can without a break until we get really fatigued. Sadly, some estimates show as many as two-thirds of office workers eat lunch at their desk. Employers tend to see these people as the hardest workers, but what they are doing has been shown to be counterproductive. Going without breaks exhausts us and the result can be lack of focus and reduced quality of work.
Top performers, by contrast, tend to practice in focused sessions lasting no more than 90 minutes. They work in bursts taking frequent breaks to ensure recovery and avoid exhaustion. This supports studies that conclude that performance deteriorates in continuous work, but can be reversed by taking rest breaks.
Breaks from sustained activity as short as one minute have been shown effective in restoring performance while at the computer. These should be a combination of both physical and mental breaks (depending on personal need) so employees can learn to master their pace.
The effects of fatigue on your body can manifest in the form of tiredness, headaches, body aches, and even irritability.
There are many types of fatigue in the office – mental, eye, static muscle and muscle over-use. The effects of fatigue on your body can manifest in the form of tiredness, headaches, body aches, and even irritability.
All of the fatigue types combined together can be quite the monster.
When I talk about fatigue I always think about a long car trip. Imagine yourself driving for 9 hours. A trip like this is always exhausting. You have static muscle fatigue from holding the same sitting posture for so long. You have mental fatigue from the monotony of the drive and extended focus. If you are in heavy traffic or have crying children – that will increase the mental load. Your arms and hands are likely tired from gripping and holding onto the steering wheel. There is no tremendous physical activity involved, but the majority of people will be extremely tired by the onset of fatigue during the drive.
Some people’s work environments closely resemble a long road trip. Sitting for hours without movement in a closed space, intense focus and repetitive arm work. Replace the traffic and crying kids with work stress, deadlines, customers and co-workers.
It is often the combination of multiple types of fatigue that can lead to complete exhaustion. It is up to each of us to do what we can to manage our fatigue. Awareness is key and taking the time to rest is necessary to optimize our work performance over the long-term.
Managing fatigue at work by software intervention
Studies have shown that scheduled breaks were generally more effective than leaving workers to take breaks at their own discretion. Rest break software has been created to coach and encourage workers to take the breaks they need to avoid fatigue.
This type of software targets different types of fatigue, but gives users the ability to customize their own plan. The user chooses a setting that best represents their needs and then they have the ability to enhance this with custom reminders and content. Breaks range from stretch breaks, to short-cut key tips, to world news.
The software measures the time and intensity to which employees engage with their computer. If the computer user works for too long without taking a natural break, the software will advise that they need to take a micro-break.
The goal of the software is to raise consciousness in a natural, non-forced way that a small break is needed.
Computer users get feedback on their computer usage and intensity and the software lets them know what they are doing well and what they could improve on to have more comfort and energy.
Admins can view statistics to see how employees are doing and better target which departments could use more coaching and support.
The proactive feedback closes the loop for an organisation between providing a tool to take breaks, to providing feedback on the actual usage of the tool, to responsibility of taking breaks on part of the individual employee.
Ann Hall has degrees in marketing and management, holds a certification in ergonomics management and is a certified corporate wellness specialist. She has joined Efficiency Software in the testing and promotion of software solutions that target increased wellness and productivity at work.
This article was featured in the July 2016 edition of our Connect magazine. You can download the whole issue for free here.