U.S. Productivity Gains Come at a Price

Thanks to the convergence of a recovering economy and a lean workforce, U.S. productivity gains in the fourth quarter of 2009 reached 6.9%. For the year, the rate was 3.8% — the second-highest level in a decade. While that is certainly welcome news, you have to wonder if employers are wearing their employees out.

In a report published in the January Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 38% of more than 29,000 employees said they had experienced “low levels of energy, poor sleep, or a feeling of fatigue” during the past two weeks, a problem that carries billions of dollars in costs from lost productivity.

The study looked at the effects of fatigue on health-related lost productive time: not just absenteeism but also "presenteeism," or days the employee was at work but performing at less than full capacity because of health reasons. Nine percent of workers with fatigue reported lost productive work time. Fatigue reduced work performance mainly by interfering with concentration and increasing the time needed to accomplish tasks.

The rate of lost productivity for all health-related reasons was also much higher for workers with fatigue: 66%, compared with 26% for workers without fatigue. Total lost productive time averaged 5.6 hours per week for workers with fatigue, compared to 3.3 hours for their counterparts without fatigue.

For U.S. employers, fatigue carried overall estimated costs of more than $136 billion per year in health-related lost productivity — $101 billion more than for workers without fatigue. Eighty-four percent of the costs were related to reduced performance while at work, rather than absences.

With adjustment for other factors, fatigue was more common in women than men, in workers less than 50 years old, and in white workers compared with African-Americans. Workers with “high-control” jobs — relatively well-paid jobs with decision-making responsibility — also reported higher rates of fatigue.

Source: Workforce Trends, Monday Mar 15, 2010


Ira S Wolfe