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Recognising employee fatigue is a real issue

23rd Apr 2021
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We all experience tiredness at times, which can be relieved by sleep and rest. But fatigue is much more than just feeling tired. Fatigue is when tiredness becomes overwhelming and isn't relieved by sleep and rest. It affects someone’s everyday life and their performance at work.

Different types of fatigue may be affecting employees in your organisation. It’s really important to understand the different types of fatigue that may be causing stress for your teams so that you can help them take steps to resolve their stress and reach their potential.  

Social fatigue

This is the fatigue one might feel after speaking to a person (or many people) for an extended period. Fatigue might occur after speaking in person, especially when going out or travelling to meet up, which requires more energy. Speaking on video calls requires a whole new level of energy, especially for those who aren’t tech-savvy. Setting up a call and appearing on the screen can cause someone to feel stressed and fatigued, however much they have had to get used to it over the past 12 months. 

Responding to text messages or comments on social media can also cause a person to feel fatigued. Social fatigue can make us feel overwhelmed, stressed, and wiped out, which affects our energy levels. 

Emotional fatigue

Emotional fatigue entails the times we’ve felt sadness, anger, depression, or frustration for an extended period. It’s like those times when we are sad and cry a lot, and our eyes hurt afterwards. The body is affected because so much energy is used to experience those feelings, and it can leave us feeling pretty wiped of energy. Emotional fatigue is particularly triggered by major life changes such as bereavement or loss, as well as relationship breakdowns.

Physical fatigue 

This type of fatigue follows physical activity. It can come from having a shower, prepping a meal, going for a run or visiting the gym. Many people thrive on the feeling of physical fatigue after doing an activity because it can have benefits, such as better sleep. But even the simplest physical activity can leave others totally exhausted and incapable of performing basic tasks.

Pain fatigue

Pain may have caused a bad night’s sleep, leading to fatigue the next day. Trying to explain that pain to someone else can be tiring, which can in turn then prompt emotional fatigue, on top of the pain fatigue they are already experiencing. Sometimes the mental aspect of having pain can make us feel depressed, and therefore, exhausted. When every movement hurts it becomes harder and harder to find the energy to move and engage with day-to-day life. 

Mental fatigue

This comes from expending a lot of mental energy. Examples include doing puzzles, problem-solving, and answering questions. Dealing with particularly difficult challenges at work, such as solving major business problems or dealing with employee issues can leave employees mentally exhausted. After this type of activity, it’s common to feel more cognitive symptoms such as brain fog. People can also find it hard to switch off. Then, a lack of quality sleep can cause physical fatigue the next day. 

Chronic illness fatigue 

Sometimes there is no other explanation for what makes us feel fatigued than chronic illness.

Facing Covid-19 has brought whole new types of fatigue to the fore

We’ve all heard about Zoom fatigue. But the effects of Covid are far more reaching than that.

Isolation Fatigue

The pandemic has forced businesses and employees to confront the acute challenges of remote work.  For many people working from home has been a new experience and a new reality. New challenges around feeling disconnected from the office while facing new pressures at home. Trying to manage busy jobs, running the house, thinking about other family members, let alone feelings of anxiety about the physical effects of the virus and the emotional effects of lockdown.

Zoom Fatigue

Zoom, Teams or whichever system you are using, is something that we have all adapted to since the pandemic started.  Of course, this tech has been around for a long time but with so many people working from home, these tools have suddenly become the norm. Yet many people are not only crying out for human face-to-face interaction but are feeling really challenged with the increased use of video chat. Some colleagues are attending a new Zoom call on the hour every hour. They might have experienced ‘back to back’ meetings in the office, but even these had the added advantage of moving about the office, having a two min chat with another colleague, grabbing a coffee and interacting again with different people in between. Yet the constant gaze down the camera can make us feel uncomfortable and tired. Without visual breaks, we need to refocus and our brains grow increasingly fatigued.

Helping employees to tackle fatigue

Encouraging staff to seek medical advice is of course important, especially for those facing issues like pain fatigue. But when it comes to other types of fatigue, there are steps we can take to help:

1. Reframe the problem – encourage individuals to try and think of the issues that are causing them stress and fatigue in different ways.

2. Validate feelings – it’s ok not the be ok. But feelings do not dictate reality. Being lonely doesn’t mean you are in this alone.

3. Manage anxiety. Anxiety is a natural response to sources of stress – particularly events like a global pandemic. Mindfulness and deep breathing are useful ways for managing anxiety and there are loads of free tools and videos online.

4. Accept the things we cannot change. Similar to reframing the problem, encourage staff to accept the things they cannot change and focus on the things they can, starting with themselves and how they react to the world around them. It's hard not to be angry with the way things are and have been. But right now, it is what it is. Breathe and look to the future where you can, instead of living in fury right now. Remember that this situation isn’t forever, and that behind every dark cloud is a beautiful blue sky.

5. Stay connected. This can mean staying connected with friends and family through telephone, email, in-person meetings where possible and even good old-fashioned letters and cards. But it can also mean the important social connection aspects of work. Suggest managers build in communication time that just talks about “stuff” and encourage colleagues to connect with each other without the structured schedule of a meeting.

6. Focus on healthy lifestyle habits. Exercise, routines, diet, drinking enough water and sleep really do make a difference.

7. Encourage leaders to minimise time spent in Zoom meetings where possible. Does it need to take 1 hour can it be reduced to 45 min? Can we build in breaks so that everyone’s brains get that rest in between? Managers can lead by example, starting or ending meetings with a get up and stretch to get everyone moving, a daily gratitude to reframe the team mindset to a positive platform and mix up their engagement style with phone calls, emails and Zoom to keep their day balanced.

Now, more than ever, it’s important to practice self-care. Give yourself the treats you love, and time to breathe wherever you can. We all need to care for ourselves, to be able to help anyone else. As co-workers and managers, we might have to think about how we can be flexible, empathetic and communicate whilst also thinking about productivity, reputation and efficiency. Think about how we can reassure our colleagues that the organisation is there for them, whatever their personal challenges or sources of stress may be.

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