Surfacing Forbidden Narratives about Fatigue

Surfacing Forbidden Narratives about Fatigue


On Friday 1 March 2019 I went to ‘Positively Managing Workplace Fatigue’, a keynote delivered by Professor Drew Dawson at a Victorian Workplace Mental Wellbeing Collaboration’s Business Leaders Breakfast.

Professor Dawson advised that organisations should have a Fatigue Risk Management Plan, and that dealing with fatigue is a shared responsibility between indiviuals and the organisations they work for.

Of course, any workplace leader worth their salt should be trying to structure work that is not unhealthily burdensome on their employees. But Professor Dawson also stated that fatigue is inevitable due to the fact that most of us live complicated lives outside of work – we stay up at nights with sick kids or we might need to work a second job…

The trick is to create a workplace culture alongside allowing space within workplace processes for people to be honest about their energy levels and what is influencing them.

Some people, however, might find it hard to broach conversations about fatigue and how it’s affecting their work, especially if the fatigue is not due to a one-off incident, like a virus or being kept awake by the neighbour’s birthday party, but is due to more complex conditions at work in their lives. Both the fatigued worker and their manager may find this an awkward dialogue to navigate.

Professor Dawson talked about the use of structured conversations, “highly scripted interactions” that can help people work their way through these discussions.

I am very interested in the idea of equipping people with something to help them initiate conversations around potentially awkward issues, and perhaps to also reflect on and make sense of those conversations when they’re finished.

I am not sure exactly what Professor Dawson had in mind when he was talking about a “highly scripted interaction”, but whether that conversational aid was a formal checklist, a deck of cards with prompts, some kind of game, or (in my work) creative materials, the efficacy of equipping people with resources makes sense. More sense, surely, than flinging two people into a room for a potentially tricky conversation with nothing but good intentions (if they have them), gut instincts, and any ‘soft’ communication skills they may have picked up over the years (and we live in a society that is quite bad at teaching people those soft skills). Developing or adapting resources or techniques for managers and workers to use can not only lend structure and meaning to a conversation about fatigue (or other issues), but in developing or adapting resources organisations can also embed values and priorities that are pertinent to them.

Fatigue can have such a huge impact on our work, and the way we feel about our work, that any resource or strategy that can help people to talk constructively about it should be welcomed.

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