As you prepared for summer getaways, how would you feel knowing that the pilot in charge of your holiday flight was so tired that the European Cockpit Association likened them to a drunk driver?
Early summer, the boss of low-cost airline Whizzair attracted a whirlwind of criticism after he urged crews to work through their fatigue and ‘go the extra mile’ to get flights up and away.
However, it is not only aircrews subjected to dangerous messages about fatigue. Other essential deskless employees are increasingly suffering from exhaustion and burnout. From retail to healthcare and transportation, deskless workers across multiple industries suffer ill health and reduced performance due to fatigue, representing sectors where shift work and long hours are common.
The idea that fatigue and burnout demonstrate ‘extra mile’ commitment is false and dangerous. Working through exhaustion can lead to unintended consequences and increased risks – for deskless employees and their companies. So, what can leaders do to support their essential deskless teams to find balance
1. Encourage employees to unplug
With a cost-of-living crisis and record inflation, people are juggling stresses that affect their personal and work lives. For example, even though employees often have paid time off, many resist using their time off because they worry about the perceived negative impact of stepping away.
However, employers need to appreciate and understand that stepping away is also an essential part of giving their best at work and can increase productivity in the long term. Encouraging behaviour that supports appropriate rest, and setting the example at the management level, is critically important to ensure employees use their time off and unplug to recharge sufficiently.
2. Listen first
Before making decisions as an organisation, listen to employees’ feedback and adjust practices where possible. As success depends on people’s performance, ensuring employees are well informed, satisfied and feel appreciated and heard is fundamental. Opening lines of communication, being engaged in feedback, showing humility, and ensuring the dispersed, deskless employees are included in the process are essential.
To build team spirit and create a sense of belonging across the organisation, between the deskless employees and their colleagues, companies must ensure that all workers receive personalised experiences, timely communications, and easy access to information to create trusted bonds across the organisation.
It starts with consistent two-way communication between office and frontline workers, managers, and their teams that bridge the communication gap regardless of where workers are. By using technology that gives all employees a voice in the business, employers can foster that sense of belonging and eliminate the ‘us and them’ culture many have unwittingly created.
3. Empower authentic communication
The best managers know that cultivating a happy and healthy team is one of the most important contributors to their success. After more than a year of disruptions in typical work environments and patterns, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for managers to find creative ways to stay in touch with employees – especially those who work remotely or off-site. Leaders must make it as easy as possible for managers to keep in contact with each team member, recognise accomplishments more regularly, and uncover issues with work-life balance.
Modern workforce communication tools can simplify personalised and timely interactions, leveraging data to create positive employee experiences throughout the deskless employee’s day. This could be an alert nudging a manager to check in on their pilot who’s taken three extra shifts this week or to check in on their store manager who has turned up late every day to find out what’s really going on behind the timesheet.
4. Explore new versions of flexible working
In the new world of work, many companies are allowing for a flexible schedule – especially for people simultaneously juggling work, childcare, second jobs or supporting other family members. However, this is a benefit primarily offered to office workers and rarely to those deskless workers who were never working a 9-to-5 in the first place.
Whilst remote working isn’t an option for a pilot or store clerk (at least, not yet), employers must identify opportunities to give their employees autonomy over their schedules. This starts at the bare minimum – making shift swapping easy and intuitive – but can also go much further. For example, modern workforce management software can enable employees to make their preferences known, like those who want extra shifts and those who have restrictions on their schedules. This ensures that the appropriate people are being asked to work extra shifts when it’s necessary and they are available.
5. Harness data to achieve balance
Workforce management systems can significantly support employee safety, wellbeing, and work/life balance. For example, fatigue management systems monitor hours worked, tasks performed, breaks taken, and time off. These systems can flag employees at risk of fatigue and allow managers to offer wellbeing programmes and benefits to ensure no worker slips through the net.
Mitigating the risks of fatigue and burnout is essential for employee wellbeing and long-term company success. We are already seeing the consequences of organisations not prioritising this issue; high turnover, strikes and the loss of top talent. Leading by example means creating a culture that listens and takes fatigue seriously, harnessing strategies that support wellbeing and investing in the tools to deliver on this promise.
By Scott Bamford, Workforce Management Solutions Director at WorkForce Software.