Stopping the Zzzzzzzz: The risk of fatigue for frequent work travellers
Struggling to get through the day?
Working long hours without a break?
Waking up and forgetting which country you are in?
Feeling grumpy and irritable?
These are just some of the experiences employees who travel frequently for work encounter.
Increasingly, global organisations require employees to travel across the globe- a phenomenon that is increasing the risk of fatigue for employees.
Fatigue is the persistent feeling of tiredness resulting from physical and/or mental exhaustion and has been consistently linked to decrements in performance and safety risk. Persistent fatigue can also negatively impact on an individual’s physical, emotional, mental, and social wellbeing.
Workers who travel frequently have an increased risk of fatigue due to a number of compounding factors, including 1) disruption of their internal body clocks (ciracdian rhythm), 2) unpredictable work schedules, 3) sleep disruptions, 4) changes in environmental conditions, and 5) lifestyle-related factors including family responsibilities and reduced social support.
International travellers are at a heightened risk for fatigue, with research indicating that international travel across more than two time zones can result in jet lag (a specific type of fatigue).
So what are organisations doing to reduce the risk of fatigue in their travel workers?
Recently, a global mining company approached Kaya with increasing concerns about fatigue for their VP’s. This team of VP’s were frequently travelling internationally between mine site, working inconsistent work schedules, long hours, dealing with travel safety concerns, and limited access to technology.
Working closely with the mining company, Kaya conducted a three-dimensional evaluation of fatigue risk for the frequent flying team by examining the role of the self (I), the team (We), and the organisation (It).
(1) Audited the current state of the travel team by reviewing and interpreting available data on work schedules, travel schedules, and current policies and procedures.
(2) Conducted a holistic baseline survey (Wellbeing IndicatorTM) due to the strong research links wellbeing, mental health and fatigue. The Wellbeing Indicator was used to provide a comprehensive evaluation of wellbeing to highlight the current resources and identify risk areas that require further investigation at the individual and team level.
(3) Conducted individual travel risk interviews to further explore current risk factors identified in the research and the themes discovered in the holistic baseline survey.
Collectively, the results from the three investigations revealed that the demands of frequent flying workers is variable, and the resources and challenges experienced are unique to the individual. This means, that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to fatigue management for frequent travellers will not solve the problems associated with travel fatigue and stress- an individually tailored approach is the answer.
What can “I, we, It” do?
Although the symptoms and mitigation strategies of travel fatigue are highly variable, there are strategies individuals, teams, and organisations can initiate to reduce the risk of fatigue in their frequent flyers.
For individuals (I):
1. When travelling internationally across more than two time zones, schedule rest and transition time at the destination location.
2. Select flights that allow early evening arrival and ensure you stay awake until local bed time.
3. Change your watch to destination time upon boarding your flight.
4. Drink plenty of water during your flight and limit or avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks.
For teams (We):
1. Encourage employees to share travel survival knowledge and mitigation strategies.
2. Include travel safety shares at team meetings.
3. Regularly clarify expectations associated with travel and communication within the team.
4. Use a buddy system, pairing highly experienced travellers with newer team members.
For organisations (It):
1. Review travel policies and ensure these reflect current best practice.
2. Limit number of international trips per year.
3. Implement mandatory rest periods after travelling with significant time zone differences.
4. Provide access to communication with family/friends while employees are travelling.
5. Monitor travel schedules and work demands, ensuring employees do not exceed maximum working hours.