Connecting state and local government leaders
When managers use dashboards to see how many hours staff members are putting in, they can head off the negative consequences of worker fatigue.
Staffing shortages and unfilled positions are common challenges to many state and local government managers trying to deliver safe, timely and effective services. But workforce gaps have another consequence that managers should pay closer attention to: worker fatigue.
When there aren’t enough employees to get the job done, existing staff may have to pick up more shifts or put in overtime. These demands can result in late work nights or entirely upended sleep schedules, leading to overworked and overtired staff, according to a report released Friday by UKG, a human capital management firm and written by columnists and senior advisers to Route Fifty, Katherine Barrett and Richard Greene. Managers can also suffer from fatigue when they pick up extra workloads for lower-level employees who are unavailable or not approved for overtime.
Red-eyed and lethargic staff can result in workplace disruptions, including “unplanned and unexplained absences, risks to worker safety, drops in performance, and declining levels of customer satisfaction,” the report stated. Agencies’ could even see financial consequences, as the National Safety Council estimated an organization with 1,000 employees could lose more than $1 million a year due to absenteeism, lost productivity and health care costs related to fatigue issues.
For public sector organizations whose missions demand around-the-clock attention, such as law enforcement agencies and correctional facilities, the consequences of fatigue are even more dire. Too many overtime shifts, for instance, could impair an officer’s decision-making skills, putting themselves or others at risk, according to the report. Last year, an officer at the Colorado Department of Corrections died in a car crash after he fell asleep behind the wheel following an overnight prison shift, the Colorado State Patrol reported.
Law enforcement officers often work overtime. In fact, a 2022 audit of the Berkeley Police Department in California found 21% of officers exceeded the department’s overtime limit of 44 hours in a week, largely due to staffing shortages. When overreliance on overtime results in fatigued workers, agencies may see more mistakes, burnout and unproductivity among officers, City Auditor Jenny Wong wrote.
But improving how managers monitor and manage workloads through data and policies can help alleviate pressure on staff, said report co-author Barrett. Data and management solutions can ultimately support efforts to enforce policies aimed at restricting or reducing workplace fatigue, such as overtime limits, she added.
“Managers are realizing that they can exercise some control over what happens,” she said. When they “follow the individual work patterns of their employees, they can make sure that they are not overdoing it in a way that will endanger themselves and others.”
That’s why one Georgia agency leveraged data dashboards to address workplace fatigue. About a year ago, the state Department of Corrections partnered with UKG to conduct a pilot program during which prison and detention facility managers used data dashboards to monitor staff’s working hours. The program helped managers “watch out for workers who were putting in far more hours than normal with little time off for rest,” the report stated.
According to the department’s Director of Data Management Cliff Hogan, the dashboards showed when employees were putting in too many hours. With that insight, managers could then, for example, assign shifts to staff who have the flexibility to take on more work and relieve employees whose data indicated they had already worked for too long.
“You can tell (supervisors) over and over again that they’re working people too much, but until you show them in a way that jumps off of the page, it doesn’t become clear. That’s when people really start to say, ‘Okay. I can see it now,’” Hogan said in the report.
The Georgia Corrections Department is also working to improve workplace conditions with innovative programs such as tiger teams, or cross-functional groups of experts that help solve organizations’ critical issues. Additionally, the agency’s human resources department is loaning employees from one detention center to another. That means “a prison [that] has less of an overtime problem can lend employees to a prison that is having more stress so that you don’t always have to depend on solely the employees who work in that particular area,” Barrett said.
“As management attention [to worker fatigue] spreads, more academic and practitioner evaluations will help clarify what works best not only to track fatigue but also in finding ways to protect both employees and employers,” the report stated.