Let’s Keep It Safe: Fatigue, Pain, and Loss of Productivity in the Retail Workplace

In today’s retail setting, significant focus has been placed on keeping the workplace safe from the consequences of the current COVID-19 pandemic—and rightfully so. However, that shouldn’t distract our attention from the many other risks that are common in retail, especially considering the stress and uncertainty that all of us have faced over the past several months. Workplace fatigue is a condition that any and all of us can face, and something that we must remain aware of as we move into retail’s most active season.

In the retail industry, work fatigue is caused by many factors. The most common is working extended or irregular shifts that are longer than 8 hours, or any work hours that limit the opportunity to get adequate sleep between shifts.

For example, an employee working a late night shift and then working an early morning shift the following day would likely experience work fatigue. According to a Member Insurance Resource, “reports of fatigue are higher among shift-workers than among day-workers and highest during night work.”

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A study supported by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and conducted by a noted public health research team at Harvard found that sleep deficiency was associated with an increase in pain, reduced productivity, and reduced alertness. Sleep deficiency is a term for short sleep duration, lack of sleep, or unmet sleep need that results in poor health, a significant drop in work performance, and declines in overall well-being.

Fatigue impairs work ability by increasing the time it takes to accomplish tasks and impairing workers’ concentration. Workers with fatigue reported more physical health problems, body pain, and role limitations, as well as poorer general health, vitality, and social functioning than workers without fatigue.

In terms of prevention, the topic of sleep must be addressed as a vital part of a company’s safety and health program, particularly for employees who work rotating shifts, evening shifts, night shifts, or long work hours. Employees need to be aware of the effects of sleep deficiencies for dealing with common workplace hazards.

Fatigue: Five Facts to Save Your Life

  • Fatigue is physical or mental exhaustion that can be caused by stress; medication; overwork; extreme heat; or underlying medical conditions such as mental and physical illness or disease.
  • The body is designed for sleeping 7–8 hours during the nighttime. Working at night, very early in the morning, at irregular times, and over long shifts can lead to shorter sleep time and poorer-quality sleep, which can lead to fatigue.
  • Fatigue makes workers feel weary or unmotivated, reduces physical ability, reduces productivity, and increases risk for worker errors and injuries.
  • Long work hours may increase the risk of injuries and accidents and can contribute to poor health and worker fatigue.
  • Employers and workers need to view sleep as an important safety requirement, like water, food, and the supplies needed to carry out work. Both employers and workers need to make getting enough good quality sleep each day a priority.

This article was first published in 2016 and updated in October 2020.

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