How often whilst at work have you found yourself yawning away and then asked yourself “When did I last take a break from what I’m doing?” Sound familiar? If it does, then you’re not alone and I guarantee that if you ask one of your fellow co-workers they will in the last week have had the same thought.
In modern times, there seems to be a trend for workers to arrive at work, focus on the task they are undertaking, work as hard as they can without taking a break and before they know it they are fatigued. We have all during some point in our working life experienced those days where we carry on working intensely to meet a deadline or become engrossed in the task at hand and where taking a break sounds like a luxury rather than a necessity.
Sadly, some estimates show that two thirds of office workers still eat their lunch at their desk so that they can continue working and I have personally experienced and witnessed co-workers doing exactly the same thing in previous employment. In reality all we are doing is placing ourselves under unnecessary stress and by the end of the working day we find ourselves exhausted. For some of us we haven’t done any heavy physical activity other than we worked too hard for too long so that when we get home we just crash out. If we only do this every so often then it doesn’t cause too much of a problem but for many people they repeat this unhealthy pattern of working every day. It’s not difficult to imagine the amount of stress that this places on their health nor how it affects their quality of life. Fatigue might not seem like a big deal in the short-term, however in the long-term it does decrease our ability to respond to situations as well as draining us of much needed mental and physical energy.
Workplace fatigue in the UK is becoming a modern “trend” however, it can lead to illness, stress, lack of concentration, injury and in some circumstances death especially for those individuals who carry out driving tasks, operate machinery or work on a construction site where a lapse in concentration can have serious and sometimes deadly consequences.
Fatigue can take the form of mental, physical, eye, static muscle and muscle over use and this can manifest itself in the body in the form of tiredness, headaches, body aches, irritability and in some cases anxiety and depression. If you are unlucky enough to have all these combined together then it can be debilitating and cause complete
exhaustion which can affect not only yourself but your family, your friends and even fellow co-workers. Going for long periods of time without breaks simply takes it out on both the mind and body and the result can be a lack of focus and a reduction in the quality of your work. Sadly in some workplaces, employers still chose to see those employees who work without breaks wrongly as some of the hardest workers when in essence the work they are likely to output will be counterproductive.
So what can we do to battle workplace fatigue? Well, there are many things that you as an individual can choose to do to manage your own fatigue with awareness being a big key factor as well as taking time to rest and pace yourself throughout the day even if that seems a somewhat alien concept. Ensure that you take regular exercise, this doesn’t have to be expensive or costly, even a brisk 20 minute walk will provide you with refreshed energy and give your mind time to wind down. Eat healthily with plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables and lean meats and don’t fill up on high fat, high carbohydrate or sugary foods as these will give you a quick fix and can be counterintuitive by creating additional fatigue. Remind yourself to slow down and take small breaks and make sure you take that well deserved lunch break!
It is not however, just the responsibility of you as an individual to manage your fatigue though, your employers also have a duty of care to ensure the wellbeing of not only yourself but all their employees and should be encouraging and promoting employees into taking regular scheduled breaks rather than leaving it to their employees to take breaks at their own discretion. This can be things as simple as getting up from your workstation to chat to a colleague instead of emailing or calling them or offering to make the next round of drinks!
Taking regular small breaks during your working day helps you to achieve overall endurance and your mental and physical wellbeing will thank you for it. If you were to ask an athlete such as a runner or cyclist how they paced themselves for their race then their answer to you would depend on what the distance and difficulty of the course was, how their current health was as well as environmental factors such as the heat and cold. They wouldn’t go “hell for leather” and then end up being sick close to the finishing line!
My advice to you would be to practice working in 90 minute focused sessions to ensure that you keep your focus and to avoid exhaustion even if this means simply offering to make the next tea round to get you away from your workstation and to take a breather. This supports studies that conclude that performance deteriorates with continuous work but can be reversed by taking rest breaks. By looking after yourself with regular rest breaks, your mind and body will thank you for it by reducing the effects of fatigue!