Avoiding Burnout: Effective workload management creates an engaged workforce

Published On
Feb 15, 2022

It is estimated that 4 out of 5 workers, across all industries, feel overworked. When employees are stressed, they are less engaged and effective. Burned-out employees are far more likely to be involved in an incident resulting in injury or fatality than those who are well-rested. Fatigue is a contributing factor in roughly one-third of all occupational injuries. Fortunately, employers that successfully manage workload can help avoid these types of incidents and create a more engaged workforce.

Workload management is the process of efficiently distributing and managing work. It can have a profound effect on all areas of business. When properly executed, workload management can positively impact morale, productivity and workers’ overall safety.

Effective workload management may include establishing work schedules that allow workers enough time to sleep between shifts, capping the number of overtime hours, implementing protocols to monitor workload, educating workers about safety hazards and creating a method for workers to anonymously report problematic work schedules. It may also include modifying engineering controls.

Employers may provide equipment and tools that minimize strain on the body. For example, fitting a job to a person, or ergonomics, helps reduce muscle fatigue, increases productivity and decreases the number and severity of work-related musculoskeletal disorders. Employers may also provide monitoring devices or wearable technology for employees that remind them to take a break, get a drink of water or get out of the elements.

When employees are off the job, employers should encourage them to get enough sleep and avoid taking extra work or side jobs. Although working overtime or other jobs can be lucrative, ultimately, working too many hours leads to fatigue and burnout. Some organizations limit overtime and have strict parameters on taking side jobs, and other employers prohibit workers from taking outside jobs or electrical work all together.

Educating employees on how to manage their own time and workload can also be very helpful. This may include encouraging them to be flexible, cluster similar work, use time or project-management-tracking software or use advanced planning. Additionally, workers should be discouraged from multitasking and engaging in distractions.

Stress

It can also be mutually beneficial to teach employees mechanisms to cope with stress.

According to OSHA’s Guide on Long Work Hours, Extended or Irregular Shifts, and Worker Fatigue: “Studies show that long work hours can result in increased levels of stress, poor eating habits, lack of physical activity and illness. It is important to recognize the symptoms of worker fatigue and its potential impact on each worker’s safety and health and on the safety of co-workers.”

Stress comes in many forms and triggers and can vary among people. Some employers offer periodic stress-management workshops to educate employees on how to handle it while raising awareness about mental health. If an employer does not offer such a resource, it might consider doing so when feasible.

Fatigue

Fatigue—mental and physical—is important as it pertains to team morale and the overall work environment. In addition to impacting work performance and productivity, it can lead to increased tardiness or absences, poor relationships with colleagues and inability to follow directions or carry out tasks.

Tired workers also tend to make mistakes that can result in accidents causing an injury or illness, because it’s harder to concentrate when fatigued. Their reaction time decreases, and they’re less aware of their surroundings. Often they lose the ability to make quick decisions. Therefore, electrical workers must be overly careful, because one simple mistake could have dire consequences.

Many workers are mentally fatigued by pressures from the COVID-19 pandemic. Will this lead to or contribute to more complacency related incidents? It can be challenging to reintegrate employees who have been working from home or have added responsibilities in maintaining a clean environment. Employers need to be cognizant of how these factors impact workload management.

Finally, organizations should have policies in place for supervisors to monitor employees and keep an eye out for signs of fatigue. Indicators may include fidgeting, rubbing eyes and frequent blinking or blank stares. Other more obvious signs may include drowsiness, tiredness, headaches, loss of balance, hallucinations, weariness and persistent yawning.

Workload management can help employers effectively keep workers fresh while maintaining an overall healthy, happy and safe work environment for all employees.

About the Author

Tom O'Connor

Safety Columnist

Tom O'Connor is safety and regulatory affairs manager for Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. Reach him at toconnor@intecweb.com.

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