Should you discipline employees for being tired?

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A leading academic has suggested that employers should discipline tired workers since they can be just as dangerous – and unproductive – as those under the influence of drugs.

Drew Dawson – a professor at Central Queensland University – told attendees at a recent Wellington conference that employees have a responsibility to show up well-rested in the same way they have a responsibility not to show up drunk or high.

Dawson, who established the largest behavioural sleep research group in Australia, said some employers should be conducting risk assessments if they fear their workforce is dangerously sleep deprived.

"You have to show the risk of working fatigued is less than the risk of not working," he told the Health and Safety Association NZ conference, held at Te Papa.

The Australian academic said employees should admit when they haven’t had enough sleep and expect some consequences, suggesting a “red card” for those who have slept for less than six hours and a "yellow card" for those with less than five hours’ sleep.

"It's a cold cup of tea and a conversation with the boss if it's happening too often,” he stressed, adding that the average worker suffered from serious fatigue three or four times a year.

In an effort to promote honesty in the workplace, Dawson also suggested employers alter the language used when describing exhaustion – instead of employees saying “I’m tired” they could instead say “I have not had sufficient sleep to do this task".

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  • Barb Hutchinson on 14/09/2016 9:46:07 a.m.

    These recommendations fail to acknowledge the myriad of reasons why a person would come to work fatigued. A big night out demonstrates a far different work ethic than someone who is fatigued because the new born baby has kept them awake all night!!

    Is this academic suggesting both should be disciplined for coming to work fatigued?

    Where is the understanding of learning or motivation or even behaviour. As a health and safety specialist myself with a background in psychology, I understand better than most that you'll never get workers to admit to something that is going to result in disciplinary action. Instead policies such as these erode trust and create a division between workers and management. The opposite of what is needed to facilitate a safe and healthy work environment.

    Assuming the journalist hasn't taken the comments out of context, this academic should probably spend a bit more time in workplaces to understand what works in a real life setting. Big stick has its place, but its not for managing fatigue in the workplace.

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