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Are You Ready for a Snooze on the Job? Trying to Perform Well as a Multipurpose Juggler

May 10, 2010
Updated December 15, 2015

In a previous post I looked at the concept and practice of Results-Only Workplace Environment: A Whacky Idea or a Smart Management Approach. Although there are different views on its practicality in a diverse and rapidly evolving workplace (can it improve employee morale, productivity and organizational performance), one aspect I didn’t address worker fatigue; that’s the focus of this post.

Canadian Business magazine had an excellent article on the topic, entitled simply “Drained.” Think of a time when you were so fatigued, so worn down so disconnected that all you wanted was to be left alone so that you could rest, regroup and refocus. Any parents out there?

I went through it four times, and even though my “kids” are all adults now, with their own children, being part of the Sandwich Generation means that I’m having to pay more attention to my 96 year-old mom’s needs. All the while I’ve moved into the semi-retirement phase, trying to attend to a variety of personal and family needs and enjoy a so-called Zoomer life. Thirty years of raising kids is enough. But enough about my issues.People are, simply put, played out. Everytime we hear about a new workplace-oriented technology and how it will increase our leisure time we get excited, except that it never happens. We were supposed to feel liberated with cell phones and then smart phones.

I recall a former boss (a director) who told me about being on the bus one morning, commuting to work. Her Blackberry buzzed but she ignored it since she was having a conversation with a friend. When she arrived at her office around 8 am her boss was standing in her office, fuming. “Why didn’t you answer my call? When I call you at anytime of the day I want you to answer.” Please meet Attila the Hun. My boss, a woman in her fifties, was dumbfounded.

This story is not atypical of what we see in organizations. In fact, it’s the norm. Being tethered to our smart phones to constantly check emails and to receive calls, not to mention checking on breaking news, has become our new crack. Laugh all you want. I’m guilty of being email obsessed. I had actually improved after reading Leo Babuto’s Zen Habits and one of his books. Time to dust it off since I’ve fallen off the wagon.

The Canadian Business article provides some scary numbers. In just the province of Quebec (population 8.5 million), it’s estimated that the annual cost of worker fatigue is $6.6 billion. Studies have shown that fatigued people are as dangerous behind the wheel as a drunk driver. Remember the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster, the Exxon Valdez or Chernobyl? They all involved fatigued workers.

Sleep deprivation kills people, whether directly or indirectly. Indeed, it’s a very popular instrument of torture and interrogation. In an organizational context, fatigue exerts enormous effects on not just employee productivity, morale, customer service, relationships, etc., but it simply costs organizations an enormous amount of money. Putting aside the common-sense issues just mentioned, one would think that companies would figure out that it pays to have workers who are rested and thinking clearly. Obviously not.

In a global environment of escalating competitiveness and speed, expecting human beings to function as mindless robots is ludicrous. In fact, given that human capital development and the capacity for people to serve as catalysts for creativity and innovation is the number one distinguishing competitive asset among nations, companies should be imploring their employees to be well rested and healthy. They should absolutely insist on invoking policies governing the use of wireless devices, going to the office on weekends, working late into the evenings, etc.

Unless we want to become a nation of automatons, producing widgets for sophisticated and wealthy consumers in far-off countries, we need to quickly come to grips with a now out-of-control sleep-deprived, 24/7 wired-up workforce.

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