We have all had those days where we are working intensely at our computers, not taking breaks, and under a great deal of stress. At the end of that day we are exhausted. We didn’t do heavy physical activity, rather we worked too hard, for too long. For many of us this means that when we get home we crash.
If this happens every once in a while that is one thing, but many people repeat this pattern every work day. Can you imagine the stress that places on their health and what it does to their quality of life?
Fatigue might not seem like a big deal but, it decreases our ability to respond to situations and zaps our energy. It is also a risk factor for injury.
To prevent this ongoing cycle, one must learn to manage fatigue by balancing and pacing themselves throughout the day. The skill of pace is not one that comes easy for many. You have to remind yourself to slow down and take small breaks along the way to achieve overall endurance.
One study analyzed elite performers spanning from musicians to athletes to chess players. The study concluded that more rest can maximize achievement. This goes against what many of us practice.
We arrive to work, focus on the task at hand and go as hard as we can without break until we get really fatigued. Sadly, some estimates show as many as two-thirds of office workers eat lunch at their desk. Employers tend to see these people as the hardest workers, but what they are doing has been shown to be counterproductive. Going without breaks exhausts us and the result can be lack of focus and reduced quality of work.
Top performers, by contrast, tend to practice in focused sessions lasting no more than 90 minutes. They work in bursts taking frequent breaks to ensure recovery and avoid exhaustion. This supports studies that conclude that performance deteriorates in continuous work, but can be reversed by taking rest breaks.
Breaks from sustained activity as short as one minute have been shown effective in restoring performance while at the computer. These should be a combination of both physical and mental breaks (depending on personal need) so employees can learn to master their pace.
There are many types of fatigue in the office – mental, eye, static muscle and muscle over-use. The effects of fatigue on your body can manifest in the form of tiredness, headaches, body aches, and even irritability.
All of the fatigue types combined together can be quite the monster.
When I talk about fatigue I always think about a long car trip. Imagine yourself driving for 9 hours. A trip like this is always exhausting. You have static muscle fatigue from holding the same sitting posture for so long. You have mental fatigue from the monotony of the drive and extended focus. If you are in heavy traffic or have crying children – increase that mental load. Your arms and hands are likely tired from gripping and holding onto the steering wheel. There is no tremendous physical activity involved, but the majority of people will be extremely tired by the onset of fatigue during the drive.
Some people’s work environments closely resemble a long road trip. Sitting for hours without movement in a closed space, intense focus and repetitive arm work. Replace the traffic and crying kids with work stress, deadlines, customers and co-workers.
It is often the combination of multiple types of fatigue that can lead to complete exhaustion. It is up to each of us to do what we can to manage our fatigue. Awareness is key and taking the time to rest is necessary to optimize our work performance over the long-term.
MANAGING FATIGUE AT WORK BY SOFTWARE INTERVENTION
Studies have shown that scheduled breaks were generally more effective than leaving workers to take breaks at their own discretion.
I have been working with the company Efficiency Software on CtrlWORK Software. It was created to coach and encourage workers to take the breaks they need to avoid fatigue. The goal of the software is to raise consciousness in a natural, non-forced way that a small break is needed.
The software targets different types of fatigue and gives users the ability to customize their own plan. The user chooses a setting that best represents their needs and then they have the ability to enhance this with custom reminders and content.
The software measures the time and intensity to which employees engage with their computer. If the computer user works for too long without taking a natural break, the software will advise that they need to take a micro-break. Computer users get feedback on their computer usage and intensity. CtrlWORK lets them know what they are doing well and what they could improve on to have more comfort and energy.
Admins can view statistics to see how employees are doing and better target which departments could use more coaching/support.
The proactive feedback closes the loop for an organization between providing a tool to take breaks, to providing them feedback on the actual usage of the tool, to responsibility of taking breaks on part of the individual employee.
This article was originally published to LinkedIn.
Written by Ann Hall, Vice President of Workplace Ergonomics and Marketing at Ergo Squad