Are Your Employees Too Tired to Work Effectively?

There’s a new survey that finds almost half of American workers are making mistakes at work because they are tired. Are you finding that to be a problem in the technical field? Are costly mistakes being made by too-tired workers?

According to a new workplace survey commissioned by Red Bull and Glassdoor, a jobs and recruiting website, “48 percent of employed Americans are distracted by fatigue at work, causing them to make mistakes and even doze off.”

Just a quick aside, the original press release thought it important to footnote that “employed Americans is defined as U.S. adults ages 18 and over who are employed.” Makes one wonder if the problem is statistically worse or better for American workers 17 and younger.

Anyway, what’s startling about the report is Nearly two in three (66 percent) admit they’ve made mistakes at work because they were tired. The report doesn’t outline what those mistakes were and their impact, but it should get you thinking as a CIO.

The Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety equates tiredness to being drunk. It reports:

  • 17 hours awake is equivalent to a blood alcohol content of 0.05
  • 21 hours awake is equivalent to a blood alcohol content of 0.08 (legal limit in Canada)
  • 24-25 hours awake is equivalent to a blood alcohol content of .10

The center adds, “Fatigue is regarded as having an impact on work performance … most accidents occur when people are more likely to want sleep – between midnight and 6 am, and between 1-3 pm. And, indeed, sleep deficit has been linked to large scale events such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the nuclear accident at Chernobyl.”

You wouldn’t allow your employees to drink on the job. Should you reconsider having them being too tired on the job? Also, did you note the 1-3 pm window mentioned above? That’s the post-lunch hour malaise that affects a lot of us.

The Canadian report also says, “Work-related factors may include long work hours, long hours of physical or mental activity, insufficient break time between shifts, inadequate rest, excessive stress or a combination of these factors.”

Does any of that describe working conditions in your company? Maybe IT folks aren’t experiencing long hours of physical activity but they are tapping their mental resources for extended stretches of time in stressful situations.

The Canadian experts say increased fatigue is caused by these factors:

  • dim lighting,
  • limited visual acuity (i.e., due to weather),
  • high temperatures,
  • high noise,
  • high comfort,
  • tasks which must be sustained for long periods of time, and
  • work tasks which are long, repetitive, paced, difficult, boring and monotonous.

Interesting to note that you can be making your employees too comfortable. That might suggest harder seating surfaces but ergonomics experts might fight you on that observation.

So, what can you do? Not surprisingly, Red Bull pushes an energy drink solution to the problem. It says, “To be more productive at work, pick-me-ups like coffee, energy drinks and tea are more popular choices than energy bars, smoothies or juices.  U.S. workers are so desperate to combat tiredness, 93 percent of respondents said they have taken action to boost their energy at work, with caffeine as a top workplace necessity, even surpassing taking a walk or listening to music.”

The experts up north have this to add, “Workplaces can help by providing environments which have good lighting, comfortable temperatures, and reasonable noise levels. Work tasks should provide a variety of interest and tasks should change throughout the shift.”

They also suggest that making workers’ lives less stressful away from the job will help their at-work performance. They say you should factor in a worker’s commute time, meal time, family time and other personal factors. The Canadians go so far as to suggest preparing meals for workers that can be taken home and permitting nap time before driving home.

There’s one last factor to consider in all this. Working parents apparently have it the hardest. They are 50 percent more likely to have fatigue issues at work than their colleagues without children. Working moms especially because women are more likely than men to be sidetracked from their work by lethargy (53 percent vs 44 percent).

A little bit of downtime purposely built into the work day may seem counter-intuitive but it could be much more productive in the long-term.

Keith Griffin
Keith Griffin is an award-winning business writer and editor with more than 30 years experience as a journalist. His work has been published in The Boston Globe, Medical Economist, Good Housekeeping, About.com, the Hartford Courant, CT Law Tribune and numerous other regional publications.