5 management strategies to reduce correctional officer fatigue

Dismissing sleepiness and fatigue as part of shiftwork is dangerous not only to employees, but also to the organization


By Carolyn Schur, C1 Contributor

Shiftwork presents unique challenges for employees and the organizations where they work. Not the least of these challenges is the increased levels of sleepiness and fatigue experienced by employees.

Unfortunately, many employees dismiss sleepiness and fatigue as part of doing shiftwork. This attitude is dangerous because it increases risks to both employees and the organization.

As a manager, you may not be able to control every aspect of the shiftwork workplace, but if you can implement even one or two strategies to reduce employee sleepiness and fatigue you will reduce the need to deal with other issues like absenteeism, turnover and increased health and benefit costs. (Photo/Pixabay)
As a manager, you may not be able to control every aspect of the shiftwork workplace, but if you can implement even one or two strategies to reduce employee sleepiness and fatigue you will reduce the need to deal with other issues like absenteeism, turnover and increased health and benefit costs. (Photo/Pixabay)

Risks of correctional officer fatigue

Sleepy and fatigued employees:

  • Are sick more often;
  • Miss more work;
  • Make more mistakes;
  • Are injured more often;
  • Are more complacent about their work;
  • Are less motivated to perform at the highest level.

These factors can result in short staffing, which leads to increased stress and potential conflict among employees. As a consequence, this results in more stress and work for the manager. More important, it can result in major safety or operational breaches. For example, a fatigued correctional officer may release an inmate by mistake if critical information is missed. Staff can also be put in danger if an officer neglects to follow through on a routine task meant to ensure safety.

Costs of correctional officer fatigue

These risks also have financial costs attached to them. These include:

  • Health and benefit costs for employees who take time off when ill;
  • Medication costs for chronic illnesses associated with sleep deprivation;
  • Recruitment and training costs associated with employee turnover;
  • Insurance claims for sleepy driving accidents.

Solutions to correctional officer fatigue

1. Employee education

Most employees think of their job as a job and not a “shiftwork” job. They come into work not knowing how to manage their sleep and why that is important. Their diet suffers, they are sick more often and there may be discord in the family.

Educating employees on how to sleep better and manage their diet is one of the best investments an organization can make. The minimal costs involved with this education are more than recuperated in lower absenteeism and employee turnover.

Management should inform staff how to manage sleepiness and fatigue when it occurs at work or while a correctional officer drives home after a shift. Learning these strategies can reduce the rate of injuries and errors on the job and reduce the need for napping.

Though education is a valuable and easy first line of defense against sleepiness and fatigue, employees may be cynical about an employer’s intentions if their workplace conditions are toxic. Employees may view the education as the employer’s way of side-stepping other grievances or workplace issues. In these situations, employees may think they are being seen as the problem, when, in fact, there are many other factors within the employer’s purview that contribute to sleepiness and fatigue.

2. Sleep disorders screening

Sleep disorders are often the cause of sleep deprivation. Screening ensures that diagnosis and treatment are provided to those in need. It can be very easily, inexpensively and confidentially done, even in a large employee population.

Diagnosing and treating sleep disorders not only reduces workplace sleepiness and fatigue, it also helps to reduce health and benefit costs, as undiagnosed sleep disorders can contribute to chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes.

3. Operational policies

Though many management and operational policies influence sleepiness and fatigue some of the most significant are:

Timing of training: Training and mandatory meetings should be available on all shifts, not just on days. If employees are required to attend training on the day following night shift or on their days off, then their sleepiness and fatigue are being needlessly exacerbated.

Frequency of rest breaks: Fatigue accumulates if we don’t get a break. Breaks need not be long, but they need to occur at least every 90 minutes or performance deteriorates.

Napping policy: If your policy is “I catch you napping and you’re out the door,” it is likely that sleepy employees are finding out-of-the-way places to catch a few ZZZs. This increases safety risks. You are much better off developing a “controlled” napping policy.

4. Adequate staffing

Short-staffing contributes to increased fatigue, overtime, stress and conflict.

Though it may seem financially advantageous to have fewer employees than needed, any cost savings are eliminated by increased sick time costs, staff errors and injuries, and employee turnover.

5. Best practice schedules

Shiftwork schedules are one of the most important factors in determining how sleepy or fatigued employees may be. As shiftwork schedules in many jurisdictions may be mandated by law, there may be little flexibility in schedule design. Learn about best practice schedules and evaluate your schedule. Consider what options you have to design shift rotations in a way that would reduce sleepiness and fatigue. At the very least, you might consider allowing shift trading as this might help some employees get more sleep and be more rested.

As a manager, you may not be able to control every aspect of the shiftwork workplace, but if you can implement even one or two strategies to reduce employee sleepiness and fatigue you will reduce the need to deal with other issues like absenteeism, turnover and increased health and benefit costs. That means you’ll sleep better, and have more energy to be a better manager.


About the author
Carolyn Schur is a management consultant who helps organizations effectively manage challenges associated with shiftwork, fatigue, stress and conflict. Her clients include Saskatchwan Correctional Centres and Saskatchewan Association of Health Organizations Inc. Visit www.carolynschur.com, or call 866-975-1114.

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