Guillaume Varlet asks: How can the manufacturing industry prevent employee burnout?

The uncertainty that the new Living Wage and Brexit has brought to the UK has resulted in a smaller workforce being expected to do more to remain competitive. As a result, the UK risks seeing increased incidents of burnout and fatigue in the workforce and, in the manufacturing industry especially, this can result in serious occupational risk.

Fatigued employees have less mental and physical capacity to follow work processes and react to changing on-the job circumstances. In the manufacturing industry where employee’s jobs range from operating heavy machinery through to driving delivery lorries, the consequences of a lapse of judgement or concentration could be critical. So how can you recognise the signs of fatigue and burnout in the workforce and more importantly, how can you prevent it?

At its most basic level, fatigue is a shortterm condition and can typically be cured with additional time off or a change of routine. However, it’s more than just being tired after a bad night’s sleep. It’s a prolonged level of exhaustion, lethargy, and listlessness that if ignored can lead to burnout. Within a manufacturing setting, fatigue could occur in employees working night shifts, rotating shifts, extended shifts, or out-of-hours callouts. These types of jobs tend to come without a consistent pattern, which can have a disruptive effect on a person’s sleep routine and result in increased risk of fatigue. For employees involved in process/safety-sensitive actions or decisions, this can be very dangerous and although physical and mental fatigue are different, the two often co-exist – if a person is physically exhausted for long enough, they will also become mentally tired. If someone experiences fatigue for long enough, it often progresses into a state of burnout.

Burnout is a more serious, longer-term, condition and can cause employees to feel they are being pushed to their limits and unsure where to go for help or how to make a change. It’s also much more difficult to reverse once an employee reaches burnout and can lead to prolonged unplanned absence, or even result in that employee leaving their job. That’s why managers must be on the lookout for fatigue before it develops further, as there can be a significant impact across the workforce. Keep in mind that it can only take one unproductive person to affect the entire team.

What are the signs of fatigue and burnout?
There are persistent behaviour patterns which could indicate an employee is becoming fatigued or at risk of burning out. Looking out for the following patterns of behaviour could help identify those that are at risk, early on. Typically, they are employees that:

  • Are too despondent to do their job
  • Are not able to complete work on time
  • Have stayed in the same job/role for a long time
  • Have an ‘always on’ approach to work – checking emails out of hours or working more than their contracted hours
  • Work through their lunch break or not taking scheduled breaks
  • Take on lots of overtime
  • Take multiple unplanned absences

People are integral to the success of the UK manufacturing sector and as a whole the industry  is working hard to attract and retain people with the right skills, in order to maintain competitive advantage in this increasingly global environment. But as the industry focuses on changing young people’s outdated views of manufacturing in a bid to draw them into the profession; it’s also equally as important to acknowledge how the existing workforce is feeling in this current climate.

How can burnout and fatigue be prevented?
After years of trying to do more with less, alongside an economic recovery that saw UK manufacturing failing to return to previous levels of employment and competing for business, everyone is thinly stretched. It is however important to prevent fatigue and burnout to prevent the situation getting worse and staff turnover increasing. Much of it can be avoided using critical strategies that balance consistency and personalisation of employee schedules and responsibilities. The right technology can play a critical role in providing visibility into tasks and workloads and providing tools that help individuals meet company needs, while maintaining some control of their work schedule and circumstances.

Technology can also help organisations involve employees in balancing their workload, and scheduling appropriate rest and time off, which may help avoid burnout, and ultimately result in a lower employee turnover. But technology alone is not enough. It also requires leadership commitment and modelling to help employees feel comfortable taking time off when needed and managing their workload to prevent fatigue. If managers don’t utilise the technology correctly in service of a strategy of engagement and retention, employees are less likely to follow suit and it won’t work.

The best prevention techniques involve leveraging managers as models for work/life balance, and effective users of the appropriate tools and technology that support this. The more managers are able to communicate time off policies and help individuals and teams balance their workloads so that employees actually book time off and take breaks appropriately, the less likely it will be that fatigue or burnout occurs.

Guillaume Varlet
Guillaume Varlet is Industry Marketing Manager EMEA at Kronos. Kronos is the global leader in delivering workforce management solutions in the cloud. Tens of thousands of organisations in more than 100 countries — including more than half of the Fortune 1000 — use Kronos to control labour costs, minimise compliance risk, and improve workforce productivity.
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