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What is Workplace Fatigue?

Fatigue poses a real risk to businesses of all shapes and sizes – and not simply those where you’re expected to operate machinery and complete physical tasks. Fatigue is more than just feeling tired or drowsy, it’s a state of mental or physical exhaustion that can reduce a person’s ability to perform work safely and effectively. 

In high-performance environments, it’s natural to expect some degree of tiredness – but fatigue can emerge when an individual or team is pressed too far, too often. It can compromise your efforts as a business and introduce an instability that you simply cannot expect if your business is to remain effective at the things that set it apart.

Let’s take a closer look at what it is to recognise and manage the symptoms of workplace fatigue and mitigate the risk it poses to your operation.

Recognising the signs of workplace fatigue

There’s a temptation to treat emotional and physical fatigue as separate questions – but more and more we’re finding evidence that they inform each other. Fatigued team members will typically exhibit a combination of physical and non-physical symptoms – being familiar with those markers of fatigue will assist you in recognising when a team member needs a break, or something bigger needs to change.

Physical symptoms of fatigue can range from periodic episodes of tiredness, nausea, muscle tension, headaches and a racing heart – prolonged fatigue can exhibit itself as a loss of appetite, frequent colds, and even digestive issues. Non-physical symptoms can include trouble focusing and retaining information – it can also inform attitudinal issues ranging from irritability and frustration through to excessive worry and a loss of confidence.

The effects of fatigue on organisational culture

Organisational culture is a term that we use to refer to the collective results of how people on your teams think and behave at work. It can emerge organically, or it can be designed and influenced so that it fosters strong performances from the people working within it. Organisational culture involves everything – from the health and happiness of your workers through to your bottom line.

As intractable as organisational culture can feel through periods of change, it is also important to recognise that continued max efforts can have a profoundly negative effect on your organisational culture. Failing to effectively manage workplace stress can derail the performance of more than just a single employee, and so it can lead to the sorts of sub-optimal interactions that can push fatigue and burnout across teams and between operational arms of your business.

There are some more common deeper organisational concerns that you ought to familiarise yourself with. For example, matters like decreased engagement and productivity, high employee turnover, and conflict that is both disruptive and unproductive. But how do you manage concerns like these? 

Effective fatigue management begins with workplace culture

Fatigue can be caused by factors which may be work-related, non-work related or a combination of both and can accumulate over time. But the causes that are the most difficult to account for and address are those that originate from systemic concerns.

High performance environments can fast become pressure cookers if they aren’t managed effectively. But that doesn’t mean imposing a range of performance related constraints on your teams and hoping for the best. Effectively addressing the stressors that are contributing to workplace fatigue and burnout is the product of a series of difficult conversations. Making the effort to generate an open dialogue with your teams will ensure that you have the information you need to make effective steps forward.

Fortunately, the most pressing systemic concerns typically have some common markers that aren’t difficult to spot at all. Unfortunately, they can be some of the most difficult to address – and they often cannot be addressed either quickly or without great changes. For this reason and more, it’s vital that you work to inspire a sense of ownership in your teams.

This tracks back to workplace culture. It’s important to ensure that your workers feel comfortable in putting their hand up when they’re feeling the effects of their work or demands in their personal life that may be affecting their work. Your team members need to recognise that they have a responsibility to both themselves and the organisation to ensure that they are across their own needs.

Address problems of fatigue in your workplace with Performance by Design

At Performance by Design, we help businesses of all shapes and sizes develop a mode of operation that minimises the risk of burnout and fatigue at work. Our consultants offer bespoke, flexible solutions that ensure your organisation is operating in a way that minimises the risk of fatigue in the workplace. We do this by providing training in becoming a highly effective leader, including:

One on one training is how we seek to develop leaders, identify underperformance, and generate support for unwell or over-stressed staff. It can also be an effective means of monitoring the lived experience of broader systemic issues – ensuring that high-level overall strategies are paired off against a regular check-in with your team members.

Get in touch with Performance by Design

From our bases of operations in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto, Canada we work with teams across the globe. Wherever you are, you can look to us for help in fostering the sorts of workplace culture and mode of operation that will see you working at your best.

If you have a question about Performance by Design, please drop us a line. You can get in touch by emailing us at