What is Workplace Fatigue? (Signs, Impact, Types, Causes, and Dangers of Workplace Fatigue)

Fatigue occurs when you feel exhausted, sleepy or weary, which is as a result of insufficient sleep, elongated physical or mental work, or a lengthy period of anxiety or stress. Uninteresting and repetitive tasks can also intensify fatigue. It could either be acute fatigue or a chronic one.  These 50 Workplace Stress StatisticsOpens in a new tab. will amaze you.

Acute fatigue occurs from short-term loss of sleep or an outcome of short periods of intense mental or physical work. The consequences can be a short time and reversible with enough sleep and quality relaxation. (Check out our Glossary, “What is Workplace Fatigue?”Opens in a new tab.)

The syndrome of chronic fatigue, on the other hand, is constant. It is a severe tiredness state that cannot be relieved by sleep. The symptoms are similar to flu and last for over six months, and it affects certain activities. The leading cause of the symptoms remains unknown.

Is Fatigue a Severe Issue in the Workplace?

Business Owners and Managers ought to be worried about the effects of fatigue in the work environment as it is also a type of impairment which classifies it as a workplace hazard. Nevertheless, we cannot easily quantify or measure the level of fatigue, which makes it challenging to isolate its impact on accident and injury frequency. Some factors which can influence fatigue include balanced workloads, shift rotation patterns, resources availability, as well as, the workplace environment (e.g., ventilation, lightingOpens in a new tab., temperature, etc.).

Some studies showed that when employees have slept a maximum of 5 hours before work or when they have been active for over  16 hours, chances of making mistakes on the job as a result of fatigue increased significantly.

Fatigue has been discovered to affect performance in the workplace. It affects individuals differently, but it also increases their worker’s exposure to hazard by:

  • – reducing physical and mental functioning,
  • – impairing concentration and judgment,
  • – lowering morale,
  • – slowing reaction duration, and
  • – increasing risk-taking activities and behaviors.

Signs of Workplace Fatigue

Fatigue’s sign and symptoms include:

1. Tiredness,

2. Sleepiness which provides for ‘micro’ sleep or falling asleep without a plan,

3. Weariness,

4. Reduced alertness, memory, and concentration,

5. Irritability,

6. Depression,

7. Low morale,

8. Giddiness,

9. Headaches,

10. Digestive problems,

11. Loss of appetites, and

12. Increased vulnerability to diseases and sicknesses.

What Are the Impacts of Workplace Fatigue, and How Does it relate to Performance?

It is tough to distinguish the effects of lack of sleep or elongated working hours to changes in injury rates and incident as fatigue cannot be quantified.

Nevertheless, several types of research have reported the side effects of fatigue as:

  • 1. Reduction in the ability to make decision
  • 2. Reduction in complex planning ability
  • 3. The decline in communication skills
  • 4. Reduced vigilance and attention
  • 5. Degraded performance and productivity
  • 6. Reduction in the ability to manage stress and pressure on the job.
  • 7. Reduced reaction duration- both in thought and in speed.
  • 8. Inability to recall information or details or loss of memory.
  • 9. Failure to respond to environmental changes or details provided
  • 10. Inability to stay awake. For instance, feeling sleepy while driving or operating a machine.
  • 11. Increased forgetfulness
  • 12. Errors in judgment
  • 13. Increased absenteeism, sick time and rate of turnover
  • 14. Increased tendency to take the risk.
  • 15. Increased health costs, and
  • 16. Increased incidents rates.

What Causes Workplace Fatigue?

Factors relating to work include long work hours, the elongated duration for mental and physical activity, insufficient break duration between shifts, adjustment to jobs or rotation of shifts, insufficient sleep, multiple jobs, excessive stress, or a combination of two or more factors.

Changes in the home environment can affect sleep as in a new baby, alteration in routines and patterns. In some cases, a sleep disorder may result in fatigue.


Individuals who have insomnia usually complain of an inability to sleep or inability to sleep overnight. They may wake up at night and find it hard to sleep back if woken. They don’t feel rested either way.

Sleep Apnea

A condition known as Obstructive Sleep Apnea has been discovered to be the cause of most sleep apnea cases. It is a sleeping disorder caused by collapse or narrowing of the upper airway or throat during sleep. This collapse prevents or limits breathing during sleep as the air can’t flow inward or outward through the mouth and nose, although your body tries to continue breathing. Several interruptions make sleep to be unrestful. A lot of people usually complain of headaches early in the morning and unusual sleepiness during the day.

Sleep Apnea Symptoms include:

  • 1. Loud snoring
  • 2. Choking or gasping during sleep
  • 3. Unusual daytime sleepiness, as well as,
  • 4. Changes in personality or difficulties in thinking.

Restless legs Syndrome

With this disorder, a lot of employees have reported cases of crawling, pulling, creeping, or tingling, which lead to an unstoppable urge to move the legs. This movement usually takes place when sleeping. The person wakes up and has his or her sleep patterns disrupted.


Narcolepsy is a rare disorder connected with a sudden sleep attack where the individual has an uncontrollable urge to sleep unusually during the day.

Other Situations

The use of substances, such as nicotine, alcohol, and caffeine does affect sleep quality. Caffeine, which is most time present in most soft drinks, can remain in your body system for over 3 to 7 hours and can influence the sleep time significantly. Alcohol may reduce the time to sleep off, and later disrupts it in the night. Nicotine can reduce aggregate sleep time.

Other substances like over-the-counter prescriptions and medications have the potentialities to affect sleep time. For instance, benzodiazepines which are usually used to treat insomnia or anxiety can cause daytime sleepiness

How much sleep do you need to stay productive at work?

Studies recommended at least 7-9 hours of sleep time daily. A lot of researches have shown that night employees achieve 5-7 hours less sleep weekly compared to those who work the day shift.  (We have reviewed Why We SleepOpens in a new tab. by Dr. Matthew Walker)

Human beings follow a biological clock or internal clock sleep cycle, alertness, and wakefulness — external factors such as the sun rising and setting influence these circadian rhythms while the brain establishes this pattern. Most cycles last for 23-25 hours with the period when you usually feel sleepy even when you have fully rested. Read more on Circadian Rhythms in this article.Opens in a new tab.

How Can You Help Your Employees Stay Alert in the Workplace?

Workplace fatigue is heightened by:

  • 1. Dim lighting
  • 2. Restricted visual acuity as a result of the weather.
  • 3. High noise
  • 4. High temperatures
  • 5. High comfort
  • 6. Tasks which are required to be carried out for a longer duration.
  • 7. Tasks which are repetitive, long, complicated, paced, monotonous, and boring.

Workplaces can come to the rescue by providing the work environment with suitable lighting, reasonable noise levels, and comfortable temperatures. There should be changes in work all through the shift, and the tasks should make a variety of interest available. Human Resource Departments should also provide training and awareness education on the consequences of fatigue, why sleep is essential, exercise, and a balanced diet. They should also provide alertness tips at every corner of the work environment.

If extended working time is usual, always consider employees commute time, as well as time need to prepare a meal, eat, socialize with family, and prepare for next day activities. Workplaces can provide:

  • 1. On-site sleep pods
  • 2. Prepared foods for employees, and
  • 3. Rooms where employees can relax before they drive home to avoid accidents.

10 Dangers For Tired Employees

1. Improper Safety Implementation and Injury:  Most workplace incidents have been connected to lack of sleep. An investigation of the BP refinery explosion revealed that some employees had worked over 12 hours daily for nearly one month at a stretch.

2. Impaired Motor Skills: Several studies have found out that 17-19 hours without sleep produce the same effect as a 0.05% alcohol level in the blood. A worker’s time can be reduced by 50%, much like when the individual is drunk.

3. Risk taking and Poor Decision Making: Sleep losses can contribute to riskier behavior. Impulsive decisions could be made by employees without them realizing it.

4. Poor Neural and Data Processing: Employees may find it hard to focus and retain new information. In a job that demands cutting-edge problem-solving skills, lag in cognitive function could be a severe problem.

5. Falling Asleep on the Job: Employees find it hard to respond to a critical situation. This was precisely what happened in 1989 during the Exxon Valdex Oil Spill.

6. Special Risk for Shift Workers: Tired workers are prone to accidents between midnight and 8 am. Elongated and rotating shifts create a severe health issue than the typical 8-hour shift.

7. Inability to Manage Stress: Sleeping for less than 7-8 hours in the night can affect stress and mood levels. (We have written a related article – Reduce Stress and Anxiety at WorkOpens in a new tab.)

8. Deprivation of sleep reduces performance: The United State loses over $136.4 to reduced productivity as a result of sleep deprivation. Output decreases as work time increases.

9. Sleep deprivation affects employees in the long run: Chronic deprivation of sleep can worsen diabetes, cause obesity, depression, cancers, digestion problems, cancers, reproductive problems, and heart disease. Fatigue reduces immunity against notable viruses and increases the chances of spreading flu.

10. Overlooking Signs and Symptoms of Fatigued Employees:  Some industries lack specific regulations as regarding work shifts.

Four Helpful Tips to Avoid Workplace Fatigue

1. Do not use alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine several hours before you sleep.

2. Reduce naps to ensure you are tired before bedtime.

3. Stay away from electronic gadgets an hour before you sleep at the very least.

4. Sleep on a cozy mattress, in a relaxed and dark room.

Related Questions

Is Fatigue a severe issue in the Workplace?  Fatigue affects performance and workplace productivity. It affects individuals differently, but it also increases their worker’s exposure to hazard.

What causes Fatigue?  Factors such as insufficient break duration, adjustment to jobs or rotation of shifts, insufficient sleep, multiple and hard jobs, and excessive stress.

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