You Said What? How Fatigue-Induced Melt-Downs Ruin Relationships

I have written previously about being a member of a choir on extended concert tours and the fatigue that I experienced on those tours. In spite of being fatigued, we could perform effectively because we were very well rehearsed and we did not need to deal with the minutia that comes with organizing such a tour. We were solely focused on being on stage and singing our part. As a result, we could deliver performance excellence even while fatigued. (see When the Tour Doesn’t End)

However, this is not to say that fatigue did not affect the tour and the choir members. As one would expect, even the best laid plans were sometimes foiled. Luggage was lost and hotel rooms were unavailable. These unforeseen and stressful circumstances would often result in one or more choir members experiencing a ‘melt-down.’ In its least consequential outcomes, this meltdown would result in crying, while a more consequential outcome involved someone saying or doing something that, on sober second thought, might have been reconsidered.

When tired, employees can be present and mindlessly able to perform. However, when faced with unexpected problems or work stresses, they do not have the emotional or physical energy to devote to the situation. As a result, they have a melt-down. They say or do something that is not only inappropriate but which may also be harmful to their relationship with their colleagues.

Though the primary concern with fatigue in the workplace is the potential for accidents and errors and omissions, consider also the harm caused by these fatigue-induced melt-downs. Relationships affected by small, infrequent episodes can usually be repaired with an apology and an explanation of “I was tired and stressed and not thinking about what I said and/or did.”

However, those who are chronically stressed, sleep deprived and fatigued, may be prone to on-going and more significant ‘melt-downs.’ This creates a perception in the minds of colleagues and they learn to behave based on that perception. They may start to ‘pussyfoot’ around this colleague so as not to cause a melt-down. They may not bring problems to the attention of this person (if a manager or supervisor). Problems arethen unaddressed and critical situations get out of hand. There may also be more employee turnover because they do not want to work with the colleague in question.

When experiencing conflict in the workplace, do you consider the impact of fatigue on the relationship?

Consider the working conditions. Are they inducing high levels of stress, sleep deprivation and fatigue?

Educate employees on the importance of sleep and how sleep deprivation and fatigue can contribute to presenteeism and conflict in relationships.

Give employees the tools to manage stress.