Most adults need between 7-9 hours of sleep every day, but we all put in long hours and skimp on sleep occasionally. It’s a familiar feeling. At work, you’re less focused and productive. Despite an effort to ingest the most caffeine your body can possibly handle, you just can’t seem to shake the cobwebs. It’s human nature for this to happen time to time for some reason or another. Provided it’s just like any other day, there’s no real risk to the employee or employer. With a good night’s rest, things are back on track the next day. It’s when chronic fatigue presents itself that real risk arises. Lack of sleep usually is not always the sole cause of fatigue. Long shifts, schedule changes, jet lag, and stress in the workplace can all be factors.

People that suffer from fatigue often experience:

  • Slower reaction time
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Decreased appetite
  • Trouble focusing


Fatigue: A Workplace Issue

Potentially hazardous work environments such as manufacturing plants and construction site can already be high risk. Adding a fatigued employee (or several) to the mix is an accident waiting to happen.

Fatigue is a difficult thing to measure, and can be difficult to definitively link to workplace incidents. Even so, sleep deficit has been linked to large scale events such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the nuclear accident at Chernobyl. (Source:

Who is Responsible?

Managing fatigue is a shared responsibility.

Employees are responsible for showing up to work ready to take on the day’s tasks. They should be getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, and practicing general self-care.


Employers are responsible for ensuring their workplace is safe. Things get a little fuzzier here, especially in industries where shift workers are involved. With an internal clock that’s out of sorts, fatigue is much more common. If at all possible, try to eliminate or lessen abnormal work hours (administrative controls).

night work

Communicating the Issue

If you notice regularly fatigued staff, it’s time to evaluate possible causes. Get a feel for what the day-to-day on the job is really like, if employees are exerting too much physical or mental energy, or are putting in ridiculous amounts of hours to get the job done.

Consider expanding if getting a job done right requires more hours than a workforce can handle. It will lessen the burden on your employees and organization as a whole. However, that’s not always plausible from a business perspective.

If long hours are part of the job, keep a close eye on your personnel. Do not tolerate complacency towards delicate tasks and safety. If you begin to notice a trend of complacency, it might be time to step in and mandate breaks on an individual basis.

More Fatigue Solutions

If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you know we’re big advocates of employee wellness programs. They’re fun, provide a common ground, and have started shaping healthier lives. The chances of people show up to work fatigued is lessened by encouraging workers to take care of themselves. Wellness programs are low risk, high reward.

Offering more paid time off to full-time workers is also becoming more common. The idea behind it is to encourage more a work-life balance so both sides can benefit. PTO is a great opportunity for people to “recharge.” It also helps prevent burnout, increasing employee retention.

Encourage employees who work at a desk all day to get up once an hour and walk around. It can help with both physical and mental exhaustion.

 desk job

Do not ignore or overlook fatigue. Being tired and operating heavy machinery or crunching numbers leaves enormous room for error at the detriment of your employees and your company. Protect both, and you’re sure to see long-term benefits reflected in your bottom line.