fatigue in the workplace

Fatigue in the Workplace – Part 1: How to Spot It and Why It’s Important

In today’s fast-paced and increasingly complex world, fatigue has become an all too familiar companion. It seems like everywhere we turn, more and more people are complaining about feeling exhausted and drained. As exercise physiologists, we see it firsthand – the prevalence of fatigue is on the rise.


“Fatigue” reaches far beyond the realms of simple tiredness and drowsiness. It plunges individuals into a state of mental and physical exhaustion that impairs their ability to perform their work safely and effectively. Some have even compared fatigued workers to drunk workers! This goes beyond the individual alone; it poses a significant risk to both employees and employers in the workplace.


So, how does one recognize the telltale signs of fatigue? And why is it such a big deal? That’s what we’re here to talk about! 


Recognising Fatigue and its Causes


Detecting fatigue is crucial for maintaining a healthy and safe work environment. Of course there are many obvious signs of fatigue, such as constant yawning, memory problems, difficulty concentrating, and poor decision-making. Some more subtle symptoms may include reduced coordination, sluggish reflexes, behavioural changes like tardiness or increased absences, as well as drowsiness, headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, and a reliance on stimulants and a need for extended sleep during days off work.


Fatigue can stem from work-related factors, personal factors or a mixture of the two. Some work-related factors that lead people to a place of fatigue include: 


    • Organisational change and uncertainty 
    • Poor workplace culture and leadership 
    • Prolonged high pressure and stress 
    • Uncomfortable or hazardous working environments
    • Unsustainable work scheduling 
    • Travel and long commuting times
    • A lack of work/life balance 
    • Sleep loss or disruption to your internal body clock 
    • Prolonged or intense (e.g. mental or physical) tasks or jobs 


Do any of these sound familiar? It’s important to take note! Recognising and addressing these factors is essential for mitigating the risk of fatigue and ensuring the well-being of employees (more on that next week!) 


Why is it Important?


The consequences of fatigue in the workplace are far-reaching and go well beyond immediate safety concerns. Fatigue not only poses a risk of accidents and injuries but also has broader implications for productivity, employee retention, and overall health.


First and foremost, fatigue significantly compromises alertness, leading to a higher likelihood of errors, incidents, and injuries. Numerous studies have shown a clear correlation between fatigue and workplace incidents. According to research conducted by the National Safety Council, fatigued workers are three times more likely to be involved in accidents or near-miss incidents compared to those who are well-rested. 


Beyond safety concerns, fatigue takes a toll on productivity and employee well-being. Fatigued individuals are more likely to experience reduced cognitive function, impaired decision-making, and difficulty focusing on tasks. As a result, productivity levels suffer, leading to decreased efficiency and overall output. Furthermore, chronic fatigue can contribute to burnout, a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion, leading to decreased job satisfaction and an increased risk of employee turnover. By addressing fatigue, employers can help maintain a motivated and engaged workforce.


Notably, fatigue also has profound implications for the long-term health of employees. Prolonged fatigue increases the risk of developing chronic conditions, including those that are physical and psychological. The impact of these conditions extends beyond the workplace, affecting overall quality of life and necessitating a comprehensive approach to employee well-being.


Stay Tuned…


Now that we’ve explored the causes and significance of workplace fatigue, you’re equipped with valuable insights. But fear not! We’re not leaving you hanging without solutions. Join us next week for Part 2, where we dive into effective strategies to combat fatigue in the workplace. We’re here to help you create a healthier and more energised work environment for everyone. Stay tuned!



  • Safe Work Australia. (2019). Fatigue. Retrieved from https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/fatigue
  • Worksafe New Zealand. (2017). Fatigue quick guide 
  • Ferguson, S. A., et al. (2019). Work-related fatigue: Real and imagined concerns for the Australian rail industry. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, 1605.
  • Åkerstedt, T., et al. (2017). Consensus statement: Fatigue and accidents in transport operations. Journal of Sleep Research, 26(3), 227-231.
  • Caruso, C. C. (2014). Negative impacts of shiftwork and long work hours. Rehabilitation Nursing, 39(1), 16-25.


Author: Tessa Nielsen 
Clinical Exercise Physiologist and
Content Creator at Specialised Health

Further reading:

Fatigue – It’s Not Just Physical!

Heart Rate Variability (HRV) in Fatigue Management

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