“Fatigue Is Not a Virtue”: How to Fight Deskless Worker Burnout
Workforce Management Solutions Director, WorkForce Software
A lengthier version of this article was previously published on DiversityQ.com.
Fatigue is not a badge of honor.
While it was long considered the hallmark of a hard worker, modern employers now know that there are better ways for employees to contribute to their organization. Exhausted workers are at risk of producing work that is rushed, prone to error, and sometimes simply dangerous.
Deskless work in particular is fatiguing by its very nature, with employees on their feet and in action for much larger portions of the day than their counterparts that sit behind a desk. They are increasingly suffering from exhaustion and burnout. From Retail to Healthcare to Manufacturing—sectors where shift work and long hours are common—deskless workers suffer ill health and reduced performance due to fatigue.
Working through exhaustion can lead to unintended consequences and increased risks—both for employees themselves and their companies. Here are some things employers can do to help their essential deskless teams stay rested and perform their best work possible:
Encourage employees to unplug
It’s important to remember that the stresses of work are only half the story; stressors in workers’ personal lives can’t always be easily set aside at the door. With increases in the cost of living due to inflation, many employees refuse to use their time off for fear they’ll be viewed negatively, perhaps receiving fewer hours on their schedule.
Employers must understand and appreciate that time off plays an essential part in an employee’s ability to perform their best work and can increase productivity in the long term. Encouraging behavior that supports appropriate rest—and setting the example at the management level—is critically important to ensure employees unplug from the workplace enough to recharge sufficiently.
Not every manager has a direct communication line with their workers. This deficit can be either literal or metaphorical: some organizations lack an employer-implemented communications system for these kinds of conversations, while others subtly discourage workers from speaking up. In these situations, employee burnout can be pervasive and advanced long before anyone is aware of the problem.
Listening to employees’ feedback is crucial. To create a sense of belonging across an organization, companies must ensure that all workers are heard. Easy access to information can create trusted bonds, starting with consistent two-way communication between managers and their teams that bridges the communication gap regardless of where workers are physically. By using technology that gives all employees a voice in the business, employers can foster that sense of belonging and eliminate the “us and them” culture many have accidentally created.
Explore new versions of flexible working
If the pandemic introduced one thing into the world of work, it would be the increased desire for flexible schedules. When workers understood just how much the status quo could change while remaining productive, they saw the potential benefits in retaining this new scheduling system beyond the crisis. This has been a blessing for people simultaneously juggling childcare, second jobs, and supporting other family members along with work.
While remote working isn’t an option for a pilot or store clerk (at least, not yet), employers must identify opportunities to give their employees autonomy over their schedules. This starts at the bare minimum—making shift-swapping easy and intuitive—but can also go much further. For example, modern workforce management software can establish a worker preference information bank to keep track of who prefers extra shifts, what external restrictions an employee may have on their schedule, and the like. This ensures that the appropriate people are scheduled for time periods that are agreeable and harmonious with their out-of-work responsibilities.
Harness data to achieve balance
Workforce management systems can significantly support employee safety, well-being, and work/life balance. For example, fatigue management systems monitor hours worked, tasks performed, breaks taken, and time off. These systems can flag employees at risk of fatigue and allow managers to offer well-being programs and benefits to ensure that no worker slips through the cracks and becomes weighed down by their duties.
The risks of fatigue and burnout are many; the benefits are few. Studies consistently show that organizations prioritizing employee rest and well-being outperform others and demonstrate more long-term company success. Those who don’t adapt may find themselves struggling with high turnover, strikes, and the loss of top talent. Leading by example means creating a culture that listens and takes fatigue seriously, harnessing strategies that support well-being, and investing in the tools to deliver on the promise of employees’ health.
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