Managing fatigue and burnout during COVID-19
COVID-19 has increased the risk of fatigue and burnout in the workplace for many people with longer hours, more complex tasks or juggling work and caring responsibilities. Identifying and managing these stressors is important to meet legal obligations and look after your people.
Part of the Creating mentally healthy workplaces during COVID-19 module.
Fatigue and burnout in the workplace
Fatigue and burnout is something for all organisations and business to consider. Fatigue can seriously affect:
- safety (e.g. poor relationships and conflict, physical risks from using machinery)
- people’s overall health and ability to function well
- quality of work
- customer service.
Some industries and roles have higher risk of fatigue, including shift workers, on-call workers, fly-in fly-out workers, healthcare workers and clinicians, people working extended hours, people who work across international time zones and crisis management workers.
Fatigue is a short-term condition that people can recover from with rest and an opportunity to recharge.
Burnout is a syndrome that can be harder to manage effectively. Addressing burnout usually involves changing elements of work design (e.g. resource allocation, rosters, workflows etc.) Interventions that focus on individual resilience are unlikely to address the causes of burnout.
How COVID-19 has contributed to fatigue and burnout
COVID-19 has imposed a range of new and increased demands on people:
- Working longer or erratic hours to keep up with increased workloads
- Working in personal protective equipment for extended periods
- Changes in physical tasks due to changing or evolving workplace needs
- Supporting others who are ill or distressed
- Conflict within teams or abuse from customers or clients
- Pressure to meet tight and rapidly changing deadlines
- Anxiety about safety or infection at work
- Concerns about finances or cash flow
- Solving complex problems
- Rapidly devising new systems or processes
- Learning about new issues and risks
- Adapting to evolving situations
- Anticipating additional issues
How organisations can respond
Following the process below can help you identify and manage fatigue and burnout in your workplace:
Identify and manage work health and safety issues
All organisations have legal duties to eliminate or minimise work-related hazards and risks as far as reasonably practicable, including any risks created by COVID-19.
Co-design solutions with people
Organisations have legal duties to consult with workers and their representatives about health and safety. Workers know their jobs, and often already have informal strategies to manage fatigue. Recognising and formalising those strategies may be an effective solution.
Look at safe design and systems of work
Actions to combat fatigue may include:
- providing alternative or safe transport options
- rotating people to less demanding tasks or enabling opportunities for regular breaks
- conducting welfare checks with people
- redesigning work hours or rosters
- ensuring adequate breaks and hydration
- providing adequate training to deal with different demands
- increasing people’s awareness of fatigue and promoting wellbeing
- providing support services (the guide below lists supports).
Monitor and report
It is important to develop systems to ensure people understand the signs and symptoms of fatigue, to enable and support people to self-report fatigue and provide effective responses.
Organisations also need to understand if their actions to manage fatigue are effective. You could measure this impact by looking at whether people are self-reporting and the contribution of fatigue to workplace errors (e.g. the need for rework or the number of incidents).
Better understanding the science behind fatigue can help you better identify and manage it. The guide below lists resources that can help you understand the science behind fatigue.