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Shiftwork Management Tip:

Be Realistic About Monotonous Jobs

The main product of a highly automated society  is a widespread and deepening sense of boredom.”
               - C. Northcote Parkinson

A job often seems exciting and interesting when it is still new and challenging, but may become boring and dull when the novelty has worn off and the monotony has set in. Add fatigue into the mix and you have a recipe for mistakes, productivity loss and accidents.

The managers and engineers who design work tasks and processes have never performed the job day-in and day-out for months on end, and may not factor into the work design the effects of monotony. Furthermore, they may not have accounted for what it would be like to perform the job at 3 am in the morning for months on end.

While it is obviously not practical for managers and engineers to perform the job for weeks on end, it is essential for them to consider the realities of potential boredom setting in, especially when there is an increased risk of fatigue during the night shift.

To create interest and variety in otherwise routine jobs may require some energy and creativity, but it is well worth the effort.

Ideas for enhancing alertness for monotonous jobs:

  • Ask people doing the job for suggestions. Ask the people doing the job for improvements that might make the job more varied, challenging, and alertness-promoting. Often there are simple improvements that can help considerably.
  • Variety and collaboration. We see more and more companies moving to increase the variety in and change the pace of jobs, sometimes having work groups collaborating in complex tasks
  •  Buddy System. Where possible people should work in areas where they have direct contact with others to help them stay alert and effective.
  • Provide opportunities for muscular activity in sedentary jobs. If you want to keep alert, or shake off a drowsy feeling, one of the best things you can do is to move around.  Any muscular exercise helps stimulate the brain and arouse the sleepy mind.  It doesn’t have to be heavy exercise; just taking a stroll, doing a single isometrics routine, or spending a few minutes on an exercise bike can be effective.
  • Keep the workplace cool. Scientific research shows that cool temperatures promote alertness and warm temperatures tend to make people more drowsy.  
  • Allow radios…with an emergency cut-off. For someone with a monotonous job, radios can be a real blessing by helping to keep the person more alert and effective.  Think about the last time you drove alone in a car on a dark and boring stretch of freeway late at night when you were tired.  I bet you turned on the radio to help keep yourself awake and your brain engaged.

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