Fighting Fatigue

Tired worker
“ Over two-thirds of your employees feel tired during the workday, according to a workplace fatigue survey report by the National Safety Council1. ”

Ok, so they're tired. What exactly does that mean? How does fatigue hurt you and your company? And how can you improve employee energy?

Tired At Work

According to the NSC, fatigue is described as 'the feelings of tiredness, sleepiness, reduced energy and increased effort needed to perform tasks at a desired level'. When tired, your employees don't think as clearly, don't make informed decisions easily or quickly, get distracted and lose focus more, slow down and are less productive.

Fatigue is a cognitive impairment effecting how we think as well as our attention level, memory, concentration, impulse control and more. 97% of respondents reported decreased cognitive performance while at work - 97%!

Of course, this leads to performance impairment as tired workers are 6% less productive. And it's dangerous as 16% reported at least one safety incident due to fatigue and 13% of workplace injuries can be contributed to fatigue.

Lost Cost

Fatigue in the workplace cost US companies $136 billion each year in health-related lost productivity2. 84% or $114.24 billion was due to presenteeism - reduced performance level while at work. So while the cost of absenteeism, depression and anxiety from fatigue is significant, the bulk of the cost is from cognitive impairment (remember that 97% you just read).

Fatigued workers lose an average 2.3 hours of productive time a week more than non-fatigued workers. In fact, one single employee experiencing daily fatigue can costs an employer $3500 a year in lost productivity, absenteeism, and increased health care costs1. For a company that employees 1000 workers that adds up to $3.5 million... for every year that it is not managed or reduced.

Why So Tired?

Studies and surveys report a few factors that lead to fatigue. The most recent NSC report1 looked at 9 risk factors that contribute such as working night shifts, long shifts, overtime and mentally-demanding jobs. While optimizing shift scheduling to allow for sufficient time off between shift changes can help, companies are not in control of what their workers do off the clock to make sure they get needed sleep.

Most adults need at least 7 hours of sleep a day for optimal performance. And yet, 43% of ALL workers and 59% of night shift workers get LESS than 7 hours. Night shift employees find it hard to sleep during their time off as working non-daylight hours goes against their natural body clock. The rise in sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and insomnia also prevents workers getting enough proper rest. In non-work hours, many choose to fulfill their time with family and recreational activities over getting enough sleep. There are only so many hours in a day.

Employer VS Employee

While it's proven that fatigue is a legitimate safety issue, there does seem to be a gap between how employers and their employees view its severity and impact. 93% of employers believe fatigue is a critical issue while only 72% of employees do3. These numbers show that workers are not always good judges of how tired they are, not understanding the signs of fatigue or noticing their delay or loss of focus. Throughout the day, the onset of fatigue can be gradual and less noticeable. And after a long day, workers expect to be more tired than when they started, believing its normal and nothing that impairs their abilities.

Take Control

Since employers see a greater risk of fatigue, management needs to be the guiding force to close that gap - for the health of employees as well as the company's bottom line. Assessing and identifying factors that cause fatigue and hanging educational breakroom posters (that are often overlooked) is a start, but not enough. Implementing policies, practices and programs will go a long way in changing your workplace culture around fatigue.

One program example would be to subsidize wearing foot and body wellness products such as orthotics, insoles and compression garments to help prevent injury and fatigue on the job.

For Your Industrial Athlete

The sport athletic industry has seen great benefits from incorporating compression garments to enhance performance, provide pain relief, prevent injury and aid in recovery. Introducing this concept to industrial athletes would be just as beneficial.

Compression is shown to increase blood circulation back to the heart which can prevent blood clots, minimize swelling and reduce pain and fatigue. It also increases the oxygen level in muscles which increases a person's energy level as well as aids in recovery from exertion by preventing soreness. Compression also keeps muscles warm which enable them to be more flexible and have a wider range of motion, decreasing risk of injury. Some compression products even provide the benefits of a kinesiology taping treatment.

In a study that evaluated lower leg muscle fatigue and edema induced by long-standing of workers wearing regular socks compared to degrees of compression as intervention, compression proved beneficial4. Lower leg muscle twitch force, volume and discomfort ratings were measured before and after a 12-hour standing work shift. Muscle twitch force is the level and frequency of contraction by a muscle. When muscles are fatigued the contraction is less intense and frequent, a slower response time. The study showed that the control group wearing non-compression saw a decrease while the group wearing 15-20 mmHg (millimeters of mercury) low-level compression had minimal change at the end of the shift. Therefore, compression maintained the workers muscle response time from beginning to end of shift - a worker could end a shift as good as they started.

Full Coverage

The orthotic and insole industry is growing rapidly with market size projected to increase by CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 7.8% to $8.8 million by 2032. With the rise in non-invasive foot treatments, personal wellness solutions and a large US population of diabetes and arthritis suffers, as well as other painful foot conditions, the need for foot relief is great.

Based on that demand, major safety footwear brands now implement premium footbeds in most styles to tell a feel-good fatigue-fighting comfort story. And while it is initially helpful, the life expectancy of any footbed is short, breaking down well before the rest of the shoe typically does. When the footbed loses its cushion, support and structure, the whole body can be negatively affected.

All feet are built different. Add in physical wear, tear and breakdown from excessive standing and we create a need for personal adjustment to re-establish natural body position and alignment. When the body is out of alignment it works unnecessarily harder and fatigues faster.

Custom orthotics built to relieve pressure, reposition foot tissue, tendons & muscles, and to properly position the arch to align feet, knees, hips & back will prevent issues, correct current ailments, and relieve debilitating pain. When all is aligned, not excessively stretched, and free of pain, the body expels less energy and is therefore less tired.

Premium insoles can help reduce muscle fatigue with custom cushion, body-weight pressure and shock absorption and heel support for stability.

A Ground-Up Solution

When a company invests in programs and products that don't just focus on the accidental injury but look beyond the minimum safety requirement to ways to ensure long-term full body health, employees perceive that management wants them to stick around a while and increases their overall retention.

When employees have greater energy, they are more productive throughout the entire workday and don't have a need to call off work to rest or heal an overworked muscle or stressed back. A company will have less time off cases and overtime expense as well as lower incident rates and RSIs (repetitive stress injuries).

Introducing wellness products such as orthotics, insoles and compression garments as part of an employee wellness benefit option or as an extension to a safety footwear program will empower your employees to take control of their own wellness so that they have more energy at the end of the shift, while you see the benefits of greater productivity throughout the shift.


1Fatigue In The Workplace: Causes & Consequences of Employee Fatigue, NSC 2017

2Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine vol 49, No.1, Jan. 2007

3Fatigue In Safety Critical Industries: Impact, Risks & Recommendations, NSC 2017

4Comparison of Physiological Effects Induced by Two Compression Stockings and Regular Socks During Prolonged Standing Work, June 2021

About the author
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Janelle Kinnaird

Janelle is the Director of Marketing for Lehigh CustomFit Managed Safety Footwear and Wellness Programs which has provided innovative solutions to protect companies and their workers for over 100 years.