Employee fatigue is one of biggest medical complaints in the UK – 21% of consultations to GPs in 2015 were for tiredness or fatigue. There are several causes of fatigue, either through medical conditions; such as anemia, diabetes, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and thyroid problems; from workplace issues such as workloads, performance pressures, or work environment; or poor lifestyle behaviours or habits in key areas as nutrition, hydration, activity levels, and sleep.
Identifying and addressing our areas of need in these key lifestyle behaviours can play a big part in both reducing the symptoms and risks of fatigue, and improving employee health, safety, and performance. Figures from our health screening data indicate that 27% of employees don’t get enough sleep; 32% are in a dehydrated state; 26% are concerned that their nutrition habits are affecting their health; 37% don’t get enough physical activity; and 17% are highly stressed.
There are several factors that can affect tiredness and these include:
Restful sleep is the most important factor in beating fatigue. How sleep works exactly is still being figured out, but we know it is a major part of repairing and rejuvenating our bodies from the previous days events. A big part of this repair and rejuvenation occurs during the sleep cycle, specifically the deepest stages of sleep, when we are dead to the world. A typical night’s sleep consists of 4-5 of these sleep cycles. A study from Ekstedt et al (2006) indicated employee burnout was characterised by an insufficient amount of sleep.
Burning the candle at both ends is one of the biggest reasons we start to develop a sleep debt, which if ongoing can lead to sleep deprivation. This generally results in feelings of fatigue, irritability and drops in performance of cognitive tasks.
12% of GPs surveyed by Natural Hydration Council believed that the primary cause of their patients fatigue was due to dehydration. Some of the main symptoms associated with dehydration are mental fatigue, headaches, poor concentration, and muscle weakness. Some of the physiological reasons for these symptoms are due to a reduction in blood volume; resulting in less oxygen, glucose and nutrients being carried around the body, reducing the body’s ability to function at its optimum level.
A big factor in levels of daytime fatigue comes back to poor dietary choices. Our stats show that 26% of employees we have screened indicated that their nutrition habits are of concern, and this generally relates to the balance of their meals, breakfast choices or lack of breakfast, lack of fruit and vegetable intake, and consuming too many high fat or sugar snacks. Increasing employees’ education about the different types of carbohydrates, healthy and unhealthy fats, and healthier snacking options are some of the biggest issues we see when delivering onsite programs. Brain function is dependent on adequate nutrition, and short-term changes in the amount and type of nutrient intake we have, due to healthy or poor food choices, influences measures of cognitive function (Mussein 2014). Making the link between the quality and quantity of fuel we put in our bodies and our levels of fatigue is still a big challenge for a lot of employees.
90% of studies on exercise and fatigue show that sedentary people who participated in regular exercise improve their fatigue and energy levels (Psychological Bulletin Journal 2006). Increasing our activity levels can promote a better night’s sleep, reduce stress chemicals, and develops our cardiovascular system so we simply increase blood flow and oxygen supply to the body and brain throughout the day, all of which are associated with levels of fatigue. Generally, these outcomes are also associated with better general and health-related quality of life, better functional capacity (i.e. reducing relative intensity of day to day tasks), and better mood states (Penedo et al 2005).
17% of employees we see at Healthy Performance self-report feeling a high levels of stress. High, constant levels of stress can affect several of the key lifestyle areas mentioned above, in particular our sleep quality. If left unmanaged, high level of stress can contribute to burnout, as well as increasing the risks of depression and anxiety. One of the most important steps is realising that stress may be causing you problems, and try to identify potential causes and warning signs associated with high stress levels. Identifying and implementing healthy stress reduction strategies early can reduce the levels of fatigue that go along with poorer lifestyle habits, as well as reducing risks of other stress associated issues.
Addressing employees lifestyles can be very useful in identifying potential causes of fatigue amongst your employees, and can go along way to improving employee wellbeing and productivity. As you can see by making a few simple adjustments in the lifestyle areas above, both at home and at work, fatigue can be managed quite easily and effectively. However, always seek medical advice if you feel your fatigue is due to a potential underlying medical issue.