Speed isn’t safety’s friend

Renée Gendron
Rushing through work tasks is sometimes used as stop-gap measure in organizations when things fall a little behind or a people are on vacation and others need to pick up the slack. But when the pace of work increases, certain movements may increase the risk of work-related musculoskeletal disorders, such as repetitive strain injury and tension neck syndrome. These disorders can develop over time or from a traumatic event. Rushing can also lead to burnout, a form of profound psychological stress where an individual is exposed to chronic stress for long periods of time. The result of this exposure is exhaustion, lack of resiliency, depression and higher absenteeism.

Burnout is triggered by many factors including having too many responsibilities, working too much, lack of close supportive friendships and having too many expectations placed on you by too many people. When work responsibilities creep into people’s personal lives, they lose the time and energy to maintain healthy friendships. As employers increasingly demand their employees do more work with fewer resources for less pay, they are increasing safety hazards in the workplace.

Initial safety risks of burnout are to the individuals themselves. They aren’t sleeping or eating well and may suffer from lapses in judgement. In rushing to get the job done with few resources, they may cut corners to check off the work. As pressures mount, resources become scarcer and demands increase, workers can slide farther down the burnout continuum. Someone suffering from burnout may reach the tipping point in sound decision making. Once he starts feeling the symptoms of full-out burnout, he may make decisions that put others at risk.

Most businesses acknowledge that the current economy is weak. That said employers still have a legal obligation towards their staff in providing a safe working environment. In getting creative and examining their business model, companies can develop the necessary resources to address the stressors that cause burnout. 

Cost effective mechanisms that address burnout include revamping the health and safety committee. Quite a few organizations have a similar committee. Some are very proactive while others seem to struggle along. For the committees that need a little boost, provide encouragement, set quick impact goals that provide concrete results and demonstrate renewed dedication to meaningfully address workplace issues including stress and burnout.

A second mechanism that companies can implement is an institutional design committee. The task of this committee would be to investigate the workflows and work patterns of the entire company. Members of the committee would be drawn from all departments and all levels of the company. The purpose would be to identify best practices, reduce bottlenecks, reduce stressors that lead to injuries and illness, including burnout, and improve the overall operations of the organisation. It is an ongoing internal dialogue to improve the self-awareness, self-assessment and self-correction of the firm. 

Another resource that tends to be underused is ancillary benefits. Most employees are familiar with what dental and prescription drug coverage they have, but many are unaware of additional benefits such as access to mental health professionals and reduced rates at certain fitness centres. Sending periodic reminders of benefits is helpful.

Employers without existing discount contracts can easily negotiate favourable pricing with local health and fitness providers to support their employees in reducing stress, staying healthy and maintaining a meaningful life outside of work. A regular polling of employees to see what kind of leisure activities they enjoy will help guide the process.