Why should YOU be concerned about absenteeism?

On average, a shift worker in the U.S. costs a company roughly $2,660 in excess absenteeism costs each year.

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Friday, 10 October 2014 18:21

Microsleeps: 30 Seconds to Catastrophe

With over 35% of Americans reporting that they receive less than seven hours of sleep per night, it’s not challenging to find people nodding off on the job.1

According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of almost 75,000 adults, 38% reported inadvertently falling asleep during the day at least once in the past month and 4.7% reported nodding off or falling asleep while driving at least once in the past month.1

These brief episodes of sleep, known as microsleeps, are extremely dangerous and regularly implicated in fatal accidents.
A better understanding of microsleeps and preventative measures against these episodes will help you to keep your operations and employees safe.

What is a microsleep?

A microsleep is a brief sleep episode that lasts up to 30 seconds, during which a person temporarily loses consciousness and external stimuli aren’t perceived.2

Microsleeps are most commonly associated with sleep deprivation and driving; however, microsleeps can also occur in the absence of sleep deprivation when completing monotonous, repetitive tasks.

How dangerous are microsleeps?

Microsleep episodes can increase on-the-job errors and can become extremely dangerous if episodes occur during tasks that require constant attention, such as operating heavy machinery or driving.

The following video demonstrates just how dangerous microsleeps can be, especially in situations that require fast reaction times.


Microsleeps have been implicated in several infamous accidents that resulted in catastrophic damage and loss of life. The following statistics highlight the severity of microsleep episodes:

  • 44% of drivers during late-night driving become dangerously tired.6
  • Fatigue has been an contributing factor in 250 fatalities due to air carrier accidents in last 16 years.7
  • Extremely fatiguing work protocols increase the likelihood of an accident from near 0% to 35%.8
  • Chronic microsleeps not only increase probability for injury but also decrease worker productivity and increase likelihood for absenteeism from work.9

What does a microsleep look like?

The behavioral symptoms of microsleeps are subtle and challenging to detect, however the recognizable signs of a microsleep episode are droopy eyes, slow eyelid closing and eye rolling, and also head nodding.3

Because microsleeps often last just a few seconds, it’s hard to tell from a managerial perspective whether or not a worker is experiencing these episodes.

Are individuals aware that they’ve experienced a microsleep episode?

Individuals who experience microsleeps are often unaware that they briefly lost consciousness and will frequently deny that they fell asleep.4 When an individual arouses from a microsleep episode, it may feel like a brief lapse in attention or mind wandering.

Research suggests that even individuals neurons can experience microsleeps, which means that your parts of the brain may be “offline” even if you’re seemingly awake.5

How can you prevent microsleeps from occurring?

Management can implement fatigue management programs to mitigate, monitor and detect worker fatigue to prevent microsleeps from occurring and potentially causing devastating effects.

An individual can avoid microsleeps by getting sufficient sleep, addressing any existing sleep issues, and taking breaks on tasks that are monotonous.

Is fatigue impacting your workers?

It can be challenging to determine if fatigue is negatively impacting your workforce. Some tell-tale signs of worker fatigue issues can include:

  • Increase in absenteeism rates (especially unexpected absenteeism)
  • Increased errors and accidents
  • Lowered productivity
  • Sluggish employees
  • Increased caffeine consumption among workers

To learn more about fatigue and its impact on 24/7 operations, download our white paper titled "The Myths & Realities of Fatigue"

Myths & Realities of Fatigue alt

CIRCADIAN® FRMS and 24/7 Workforce Solutions

CIRCADIAN® is the global leader in providing 24/7 workforce performance and safety solutions for businesses that operate around the clock.  Through a unique combination of consulting expertise, research and technology, software tools and informative publications, CIRCADIAN helps organizations in the 24-hour economy optimize employee performance and reduce the inherent risks and costs of their extended hours operations



  1. Insufficient Sleep Is a Public Health Epidemic. http://www.cdc.gov/features/dssleep/
  2. International Classification of Sleep Disorders Diagnostic and Coding Manual, http://www.esst.org/adds/ICSD.pdf, page 343
  3. Poudel, G. R., Innes, C. R., Bones, P. J., Watts, R., & Jones, R. D. (2012). Losing the struggle to stay awake: Divergent thalamic and cortical activity during microsleeps. Human Brain Mapping: 00:000-000
  4. Higgins, Laura; Fette Bernie (in press). "Drowsy Driving" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-06-12.
  5. Vyazovskiy, V. V., Olcese, U., Hanlon, E. C., Nir, Y., Cirelli, C., & Tononi, G. (2011). Local sleep in awake rats. Nature, 472(7344), 443-447.
  6. Åkerstedt, T., Hallvig, D., Anund, A., Fors, C., Schwarz, J., & Kecklund, G. (2013). Having to stop driving at night because of dangerous sleepiness–awareness, physiology and behaviour. Journal of sleep research
  7. Pilot fatigue is like 'having too much to drink'. CNN. http://www.cnn.com/2009/TRAVEL/05/15/pilot.fatigue.buffalo.crash/
  8. Sirois, B., Trutschel, U., Edwards, D., Sommer, D., & Golz, M. (2010, January). Predicting Accident Probability from Frequency of Microsleep Events. In World Congress on Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering, September 7–12, 2009, Munich, Germany (pp. 2284-2286). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.


Worker fatigue may be an issue in your operation – whether you're aware of  it or not.

One-third (33%) of workforce managers believe that fatigue is a moderate or severe problem among their workers.1

However, managing the risks associated with fatigue can be challenging. Serious concerns arise when workers don’t obtain sufficient rest between shifts, which can be due to worker’s behavioral choices, underlying sleep disorders and also due to management decisions (e.g. work schedules and staffing levels).

To some, fatigue might seem like a minor concern, yet it costs companies millions of dollars each year in excess costs, accidents and errors.

Fatigued workers cost employers $136.4 billion annually in health-related lost productive time (absenteeism and presenteeism), almost 4x more than their non-fatigued counterparts.2

Below are six types of excess costs to an operation that are often inflated by the repercussions of worker fatigue. If you are struggling to reduce these operational costs, you may be experiencing the “Iceberg Effect” of fatigue.

Worker Fatigue Iceberg

1. Absenteeism

Absenteeism alone accou

nts for as much as $2,660 in additional costs per year for shift workers as compared to day workers.1

According to 2014 Shiftwork Practices data, only 50% of absences are due to personal illness and family issues, and almost 25% of absences are due to stress and feelings of entitlement.3

2. Compliance-related violations

Sleep deprived individuals have been shown to have trouble with maintaining focus, keeping track of events, maintaining interest in outcomes and attending to activities judged to be non-essential.4

In fact, research suggests that there is a interaction between sleep deprivation and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in which sleep deprivation exacerbates the symptoms of ADHD.5

This means that workers are at a much greater risk of having an oversight that could result in a compliance violation.

3. Lost Productivity

 When sleep deprived, individuals experience performance degradations such as: increased exerted effort to complete tasks, decreased vigilance and slower response time. The average functional level of any sleep deprived individual is comparable to the 9th percentile of non-sleep deprived individuals.4

What is the cost of this lowered productivity? The total annual cost of lost productive time attributed to fatigue in the U.S. workforce has been estimated at $330 million, with 84% of this lost productive time due to reduced performance at work, as opposed to absenteeism.2

4. Increased Errors

When sleep deprived or fatigued, cognitive declines increase concurrently with a worker’s time on a given task, resulting in an increased number of errors. These errors include mistakes of both commission (i.e. performing an act that leads to harm) and omission (i.e. not performing an expected task), which can be disaster for any operation.4

Because of the cognitive slowing that occurs when tired, errors are especially likely in individual-paced and time-sensitive tasks.4

5. Overtime

When absenteeism rates are high, relief coverage is necessary to cover shifts. This means that other workers are required to work substantial amounts of overtime to cover the vacant positions.

Also, there is a vicious cycle between overtime and fatigue. As overtime increases, the fatigue levels rise among workers and the likelihood of a fatigue-related accident increases dramatically.

6. Accidents

Compared to day workers, night workers make five times more serious mistakes and are 20% more likely to suffer a severe work-related accident.6

The Flawed Mentality

Similar to the flawed mentality that the Titanic was an unsinkable ship, many managers consider their successful operations to be unstoppable as well. However, history tells a different story.

History tells the unfortunate tale of the many operations that chose to ignore worker fatigue and suffered loss of life, sky-high costs and catastrophic destruction – as was the case in infamous 1986 Chernobyl disaster, where control room operators working long hours at night to meet a deadline made disastrous decisions.


Image from boston.com

Fatigue-related error was deemed a contributing factor to the 1986 Chernobyl Disaster.

Solution: Fatigue Risk Management Systems

A fatigue risk management system (FRMS) is a data-driven, risk-informed, safety performance-based program that reduces the risk of fatigue-related incidents in 24/7 operations. An FRMS continually monitors and reduces the risk for fatigue-related accidents.

Fatigue risk management systems (FRMS) fit within an organization’s overall health and safety program and are now the globally-accepted standard for managing the risk of employee fatigue in safety-sensitive businesses.

Download Our Free White Paper!

To learn more about fatigue and its impact on 24/7 operations, download our FREE white paper:

The Myths & Realities of Fatigue

Reducing the Costs, Risks, and Liabilities of Fatigue in 24-Hour Operations
Myths & Realities of Fatigue White Paper
FREE White Paper Download

CIRCADIAN® FRMS and 24/7 Workforce Solutions

 CIRCADIAN® is the global leader in providing 24/7 workforce performance and safety solutions for businesses that operate around the clock.  Through a unique combination of consulting expertise, research and technology, software tools and informative publications, CIRCADIAN helps organizations in the 24-hour economy optimize employee performance and reduce the inherent risks and costs of their extended hours operations.


  1. CIRCADIAN (2007). Shiftwork Practices 2007.
  2. Ricci, J. A., Chee, E., Lorandeau, A. L., & Berger, J. (2007). Fatigue in the US workforce: prevalence and implications for lost productive work time. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 49(1), 1-10.
  3. CIRCADIAN (2014). Shiftwork Practices 2014.
  4. Durmer, J. S., & Dinges, D. F. (2005, March). Neurocognitive consequences of sleep deprivation. In Seminars in neurology (Vol. 25, No. 1, pp. 117-129).
  5. Owens, J. A. (2005). The ADHD and sleep conundrum: a review. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, 26(4), 312-322.
  6. Moore-Ede, M. C. (1993). The twenty-four-hour society: understanding human limits in a world that never stops. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.




Friday, 26 September 2014 19:32

5 Shift Work Tips: How to Reduce Overtime

Overtime is an issue that has recently cause quite a stir in the news. It seems like many 24/7 operations are struggling to reduce the soaring costs associated with excess overtime levels. Below are five tips for managing and reducing excessive overtime levels within your 24/7 operation.

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Are costly, unexplainable accidents occurring at your company? Fatigued workers may be the culprit.

Not convinced? Just ask Tom Voelkel, the CEO of Dupre’ Logistics, who sought the professional help of CIRCADIAN® after a series of unexplainable accidents threatened to bankrupt the trucking logistics company.

“We were having some serious accidents and we were having problems with rollover accidents. We were doing everything that we knew, but we didn’t realize that fatigue was the problem.”Tom Voelkel, CEO, Dupre’ Logistics

CIRCADIAN helped Dupre’ Logistics with implementing a variety of fatigue risk management solutions, such as employee education and biocompatible shift scheduling, to address worker fatigue issues and reduce accident rates.

“We could not do this fast enough, this was knowledge we didn’t have. We were in a situation where our people were tired, and [CIRCADIAN®] had the medicine.” -- Tom Voelkel

Did CIRCADIAN® fatigue risk management solutions work?

Watch the full story below to find out.

Don’t have enough time to watch the video? Scroll down to see if CIRCADIAN was able to help save Dupre’ from the loss of insurance coverage.


Nine months after implementing CIRCADIAN fatigue risk management solutions, Dupre’ Logistics had the following results:

  • 89% reduction in fatigue-related accidents
  • Over $1 million saved in accident-related costs
  • 50% reduction in driver turnover and absenteeism

“Looking back at it, [consulting with CIRCADIAN] was one of the best decisions that we’ve ever made in our company.”
- Tom Voelkel, CEO, Dupre' Logistics 

How can CIRCADIAN can help your company with fatigue risk management?

CIRCADIAN® is the global leader in providing 24/7 workforce performance and safety solutions for businesses that operate around the clock.  Through a unique combination of consulting expertise, research and technology, software tools and informative publications, CIRCADIAN helps organizations with traditional and/or extended operating hours optimize employee performance and reduce the inherent risks and costs of sleep deprivation and fatigue.

CIRCADIAN 24/7 workforce solutions include:

Download one of our many informative white papers that highlight strategies for reducing fatigue-related accidents and costs.

Thursday, 21 August 2014 21:20

The Hidden Costs of Sleep Apnea

For many people, the 24/7 nature of our society has caused people to believe that chronic fatigue is an acceptable way of life. This has led many people to disregard their sleep issues (e.g. waking up in the middle of the night, difficulty falling asleep). However, what is often believed to be a simple sleep issue is actually a diagnosable sleep disorder.

A significant but commonly overlooked concern in 24/7 workforce health and safety is the high prevalence of “Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome” (OSA), which is one of the roughly 70 sleep disorders listed in the International Classification of Sleep Disorders Diagnostic & Coding Manual. Obstructive Sleep Apnea can become a serious health issue if left untreated. Symptoms of OSA can include disturbed sleep and excessive sleepiness during the day (National Sleep Foundation, 2014).

The ripple effect of OSA can dramatically impact not only the sufferer, but also their spouse, friends, family, and even their employer. Most managers recognize that understanding and addressing the issues of a 24/7 lifestyle can dramatically improve the bottom line of the company; yet, health issues like OSA continue to be overlooked as contributing to excess costs.

How much do employees with sleep apnea cost their employers? CIRCADIAN conservatively estimates that each undiagnosed employee in the workforce costs an additional $6,000 per year in OSA-related expenses.

What is OSA?

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is a disorder of the respiratory system manifested by repeated cessations of breathing during sleep that can cause arousal from sleep multiple times per hour. In OSA, the upper airways collapse during sleep so as to prevent the movement of air into the lungs. Obstructive Sleep Apnea typically develops with increasing severity over a period of several years.

The period of cessation of breathing called “apneas” prevent the oxygenation of the blood in the pulmonary capillaries and, as a result, the arterial blood oxygen levels rapidly fall. Carotid body oxygen sensors detect the drop in oxygen levels, causing an abrupt arousal from sleep and gasping for air before the sufferer falls back into sleep again. Because this pattern can repeat many times per hour, the result of sleep apnea is reduced sleep quality and quantity, leading to chronic sleep deprivation. The effects of sleep deprivation and the repeated episodes of blood deoxygenation affect the neurological and cardiovascular systems.

Animation of Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Risk Factors & Prevalence

Several studies have described the average prevalence of OSA in different populations as ranging from 2% to 33% (Young, 1993; Agency for Healthcare, Research and Quality, 2000).

The sleep specialist community conservatively estimates that 5% of the U.S. working-age population suffers from OSA. However, a steady increase in the proportion of obese people in the U.S. population may directly increase the prevalence of OSA going forward.

CIRCADIAN’s databases (containing data from more than 10,000 shift workers) show that 11% of shift workers have OSA and 15% display key symptoms of OSA or other sleep disorders related to excessive sleepiness. Given the increased prevalence of OSA risk factors among shift workers, it is not surprising that OSA is more common in shift work populations as compared to other populations.

Recognized risk factors for OSA include:

  • Smoking (Kashyap, 2001)
  • Obesity
  • Having a neck size of 17” or greater
  • Regular use of alcohol or sleeping pills
  • Moderate sleep deprivation (National Institute of Health, 2003)

Health Implications

Due to interrupted sleep patterns, many individuals with OSA infrequently have restorative sleep episodes, which can potentially manifest into excessive daytime sleepiness, increased accidents, and more frequent health problems, such as:

  • 40% increased rate of excessive daytime sleepiness (Ulfberg, 1996)
  • 2 times as many traffic accidents per mile (Horstmann, 2000)
  • 3 times greater risk of occupational accidents (Ulfberg, 2000)
  • 1.3 to 2.5 times more hypertension (Krieger, 2002; Smith, 2002)
  • 2.2 times increased risk of nocturnal cardiac arrhythmia (Smith, 2002)
  • 3.9 times more likely to have congestive heart failure (Smith, 2002)
  • 1.6 times increased chance of stroke (Mooe, 2001; Shahar, 2001)
  • 1.4 to 2.3 times greater risk of heart attack (Saito, 1991; Shahar, 2001)
  • 40% increased risk of depression (Smith, 2002)

In one study consisting of 421 patients being evaluated for possible sleep apnea, researchers found that up to 95% of people who were positively diagnosed with OSA thought that they just had a snoring or fatigue problem, causing sleep specialists to suggest that high-risk groups should be educated and screened (Baumel, 1997).


Given the myriad of health problems associated with OSA, it is no surprise that employees with untreated OSA cost employers significantly more each year than employees with treated sleep apnea or no apnea.

According to CIRCADIAN’s calculations, a highly conservative estimate of the yearly excess cost per employee with unmanaged OSA is approximately $6,091. This means that in a shiftwork population where 11.6% of the workers are unmanaged OSA sufferers, these costs would equate to $706,556 per one thousand workers every year ($6,091 x 116 workers).

These apnea-related excess costs are often accrued from increased physician and hospital visits, cardiovascular treatment costs, increased on the-job injuries, and absenteeism, to name a few. Table 1 details the discrepancies between employees with treated vs untreated sleep apnea in terms of the average yearly excess costs per employee.

Table 1. Yearly Excess Costs per Employee: Treated vs Untreated Sleep Apnea

OSA costs

In order to mitigate the risks associated directly with OSA, and lower the sufferer’s risk to the same level as a non-OSA worker, the obstruction of the airway during sleep must be prevented. In short, the individual with OSA needs to keep breathing.

General measures are often effective. These include weight loss, avoidance of alcohol and sleeping pills, use of medication to relieve nasal congestion, and use of oral appliances that modify the position of the tongue, soft palate or jaw. More extreme measures include nasopharangeal surgery, although the long term efficacy of this approach is questionable due to the accumulation of scar tissue. However, the medically recognized method for maintaining an open airway in those suffering from moderate to severe OSA is “Continuous Positive Airway Pressure,” or CPAP for short.

Most employees receiving CPAP treatment experience a dramatic improvement in their health and quality of life (Sin, 2002), and their health care costs return to normal levels. Performance (as measured by tests of simulated driving, daytime sleepiness, cognitive performance and mood) shows significant improvements (Weaver, 2001), while absenteeism diminishes after treatment (Servera, 1995). Adverse health and performance consequences and costs associated with OSA can be reversed in compliant, treated employees.

Managing Employee OSA

Though OSA can be a highly disruptive disorder in its unmanaged state, the costs of accidents and health problems are mitigated when OSA sufferers receive treatment to correct the airway obstruction during sleep. However, in order to receive a non-invasive, corrective treatment, the individual needs to know that he or she has OSA in the first place.

Company Sponsored Education Initiatives

There are several challenges to overcome in order to ensure a successful outcome for a company-sponsored OSA education initiative; however, the benefits of implementing a program can be substantial.

Managers report returns from reductions in healthcare, absenteeism, turnover, presenteeism, and overtime costs, as well as longer-term benefits in workers’ compensation payments, insurance premiums, and ultimately brand value.

Interested in learning more about employee education initiatives?

Visit CIRCADIAN.com to download a free white paper titled “Shiftwork Lifestyle Training: Employee and Employer Benefits”.


CIRCADIAN® is the global leader in providing 24/7 workforce performance and safety solutions for businesses that operate around the clock.  Through a unique combination of consulting expertise, research and technology, software tools and informative publications, CIRCADIAN helps organizations with traditional and/or extended operating hours optimize employee performance and reduce the inherent risks and costs of sleep deprivation and fatigue.



"How do I reduce employee overtime?"

The question "How do I reduce employee overtime?" is one of the most commonly asked questions when the subject of overtime is presented. To tackle the costs and associated problems of excessive overtime, managers must first understand why and where overtime arises in their operations.

Figure 1. Causes of Overtime from a Human Capital Perspective

Causes of Overtime

There are four potential scenarios (Figure 1 - from left to right) that cause overtime from a human capital perspective (overtime may also be caused by delivery backlogs, malfunctioning machines, etc.):

1. If overtime is high and the absence rate (a combination of absenteeism, vacancy due to turnover, and absences due to accidents and injuries) is low, then a facility/company either does not have a large enough staff to meet demand or the existing staff is not productive enough (perhaps due to presenteeism, low morale, working conditions or fatigue).

In some instances, the total staffing level may be appropriate, but the distribution of staff throughout the day, week or year may be incorrect, causing overcapacity at some points and overtime at others (a situation seen in many service industries). A flexible workforce management approach allows for a headcount to more efficiently match ever-changing demand levels.

2. If overtime and absence rates are high, then the excess overtime is increased by the absence rate. Reducing the absence rate may result in:

a) Finding that overtime is acceptable and that a facility is correctly staffed;

b) Finding that overtime is still too high and more employees (or more productive staff) are required;

c) Finding that overtime is very low and that a facility may be overstaffed.

3. If absence and overtime rates are low, then facility managers should ensure that staffing meets demand at all times of the day, week, and year. A detailed look at demand, minimum headcount, and vacation and absence policies can determine optimized staffing levels.

4. If overtime is low, but the absence rate is high, then it is likely that a facility is overstaffed to account for the absent employees—some companies must overstaff by 10% to 15% to account for absences on weekends.

Learn More about Overtime

Want to learn more about overtime? Interested in the ways in which overtime may be impacting your workers? Visit CIRCADIAN to download a free white paper that details optimal staffing levels in 24/7 operations.


CIRCADIAN® is the global leader in providing 24/7 workforce performance and safety solutions for businesses that operate around the clock.  Through a unique combination of consulting expertise, research and technology, software tools and informative publications, CIRCADIAN helps organizations with traditional and/or extended operating hours optimize employee performance and reduce the inherent risks and costs of sleep deprivation and fatigue.

Thursday, 07 August 2014 21:12

Overtime and the U.S. Work Week

Employees in the U.S. work the highest number of work hours per year compared to the rest of the world—about 70 more hours per year than workers in Japan, and 350 hours more than in Europe. Longer workweeks and fewer weeks of vacation in the U.S. combine to produce this discrepancy.

America is one of the few industrialized nations that does not mandate a minimum number of paid vacation days per year. No U.S. federal laws limit the number of hours that people can work or can be asked to work, except in a few select safety sensitive occupations (e.g. the transportation industry). This, combined with the lack of mandated vacation time, contributes to the high annual work hours of the average U.S. employee.

Average Hours of Work per Week

The traditional workweek in an office or other discrete operation in the U.S. is generally considered to be 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday—40 hours of work. However, 40 hours per week did not become the standard until the early 1930s with the introduction of the National Industrial Recovery Act, the forebear of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

In 2013, the Bureau of Labor & Statistics reported that the average hours of work per week in nonagricultural industries is 38.5 hours, with full time workers averaging 42.5 hour workweeks. Figure 1 shows the average hours worked each week by employees as broken down by industry.

Figure 1. Hours Worked Per Week Based on Industry


BLS Average Work HoursOvertime & Employees

Naturally, overtime is most applicable to employees who earn wages based on an hourly rate. Though the standard workweek as defined by the Fair Labor Standards Act is 40 hours of work, many hourly employees work in “extended hours” facilities that require at least some level of overtime from employees in order to run operations continuously.

The definition of overtime is not limited to hourly employees who, in the U.S., must be paid a premium for hours worked over 40 in a week. The definition also applies to salaried employees who are not required to receive extra compensation for the length of time they spend at work. These salaried workers are just as likely to work overtime, and are equally susceptible to the issues relating to overtime.

Scheduled vs Actual Hours Worked

Many managers attempt to reduce overtime as much as possible; however, unforeseen absenteeism often causes increases in overtime among shift workers. According to the Shift Work Practices 2014 report, which represents data from 341 industrial shift work operations, shift workers on average are scheduled for one hour of overtime per week; however, each shift worker tends to work five extra hours of overtime per week. Figure 2 graphically depicts the weekly scheduled versus actual number of hours work on average per shift worker.

Figure 2: Weekly Scheduled vs Actual Hours Worked per Shift Worker

 SWP 2014 - Weekly Work Hours Per Shift Worker

The discrepancy between scheduled vs actual hours worked is not surprising, especially among understaffed workforces. Operations that had ‘just enough’ or ‘not enough’ workers covering permanent positions had significantly higher absenteeism rates which results in unwanted increases in overtime for the rest of the workforce (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Absenteeism Rates of Operations based on Staffing Levels
Staffing Levels and Employee AbsenteeismDistribution of Overtime

If overtime is equally distributed across employees, up to approximately 12 percent overtime is an acceptable overtime rate for a workforce, based on Circadian’s research. Overtime varies not only by industry and company, but also by employee. For instance, our research indicates that, in many industries, 20 percent of the employees work 60 percent or more of the overtime (Figure 4).

As accidents and safety problems can be caused by one fatigued employee, the risk can increase as the distribution of overtime becomes more skewed. The imbalance exposes the pool of high overtime employees to extra health risks, and exposes the company to increased health care costs, absenteeism costs, safety issues, and legal liability.

Figure 4. Actual distribution of overtime at an extended hours facility.

  distribution of overtime at an extended hours facility.

Want to learn more about how to reduce overtime?

Interested in learning more about overtime levels across industries? Want to determine if your operation is functioning at an efficient staffing level?

Visit CIRCADIAN.com to learn more about reducing overtime, proportional staffing, and shift schedule optimization. Also, make sure to download a complimentary white paper from CIRCADIAN that focuses on optimal staffing levels.


CIRCADIAN® is the global leader in providing 24/7 workforce performance and safety solutions for businesses that operate around the clock.  Through a unique combination of consulting expertise, research and technology, software tools and informative publications, CIRCADIAN helps organizations with traditional and/or extended operating hours optimize employee performance and reduce the inherent risks and costs of sleep deprivation and fatigue.

Overtime can be beneficial for both employees and companies. It provides the company with the flexibility to cover unexpected absences and changes in demand without hiring more staff and it gives employees extra income at a premium rate.

However, overtime has its downsides too. While many employees will happily take as much overtime as is available, there is growing scientific evidence that relying too much on overtime can lead to numerous problems for an operation.

Below are five consequences to relying on excessive amounts of overtime:

#1 - Increased Health Problems

A considerable body of scientific work has explored the health problems associated with working excessive overtime. Some health problems that have been linked to long working hours include: 7-11

• Lower-back injury in jobs with a lot of manual lifting

• Higher blood pressure among white-collar workers

• Increased mental health issues

• Increase in total and lost workday injury rates

• Lower birth weight or gestational age in women

• Heavy alcohol consumption among men

• Higher suicide rates

A study by Cornell University shows that approximately 10% of employees who work 50 to 60 hours per week report severe work-family conflicts.12 This number jumps to 30% for those who work more than 60 hours. The divorce rate also increases as weekly hours increase. These factors contribute in turn to mental health and alcohol problems.

A Canadian study showed that workers who increased their work hours from 40 hours or less per week to over 40 hours per week experienced an increase in tobacco and alcohol consumption, an unhealthy weight increase among men, and an increase in depression among women. 13

These health problems contribute to the indirect costs of allowing excessive overtime to occur. Health care costs, absenteeism, and turnover will increase, while productivity will decrease.

#2 - Increased Safety Risk

Long work hours have been linked to increased safety risk in several studies (reviewed by

Rosa), including: 11

  • Safety and performance at nuclear plants
  • Impaired performance and lowered attention
  • An increase in errors in medical facilities
  • A threefold increase in accident rates after 16 hours of work

These additional safety problems are likely due to worker fatigue, which could be from a single long day or from the cumulative effect of multiple days of long hours. A German study showed that doctors who worked over 48 hours a week were five times more likely to have a driving accident (either while traveling to a call, or while commuting). 14

While working at night and during the early morning has been linked to an increased risk of transportation accidents, research also suggests that long work hours in themselves contribute to accident rates.15 As they become more fatigued, drivers become less cautious, execute more dangerous maneuvers, and exhibit more erratic driving patterns.

Circadian data from shift work operations (not just transportation operations) shows that companies with more fatigue-related problems are also likely to have higher rates of overtime (Figure 6), emphasizing the effect that longer work hours can have on sleep quantity and quality.

Figure 1. Level of fatigue-related workplace problems versus overtime level 3
Overtime  Fatigue

#3 - Decreased Productivity

Studies and reports suggest that productivity can suffer with increased overtime hours. In white-collar jobs, performance decreases by as much as 25% when 60 or more hours are worked in a week. 16 Any job not governed by a continuous process can be affected by decreased productivity, and even process-driven work can suffer if reject rates and customer dissatisfaction increase due to diminished quality and performance linked to long hours.

This performance decline is confirmed by the work of J. Nevison of Oak Associates. In his white paper, Nevison brings together scientific, business, and government data to demonstrate that little productive work takes place over and above 50 hours per week (Figure 2). Two other studies, also examined in the white paper, show that productive hours drop by an additional 10 hours when the number of consecutive long workweeks increases from four to 12, highlighting the cumulative effects that overtime can have.

Figure 2. Productive vs. actual work hours, from a collection of four studies16

 Overtime  Productivity


Data from 18 manufacturing industries in the U.S. shows that for most of these industries, productivity (measured as output per hour) declines when overtime is used.17 On average, a 10% increase in overtime results in a 2.4% decrease in productivity (more output is achieved, but the number of hours worked increases as well—not as much output per hour is realized).

The scientific literature gives the following reasons for the productivity limitations of longer and longer workweeks:

  • Fatigue—employees simply being too physically and mentally tired to perform at their best ability
  • As more time is provided or available to complete a task, work rate slows and unproductive time increases
  • Concerns over work/family balance and health problems may lead to presenteeism— where the employee is physically at work, but his or her mind is not on the job
  • If employees are working long workweeks simply to be seen “putting in the hours,” it is likely that these hours are less productive

In shift work operations, morale is lower in industries with higher overtime—companies with excellent to fair morale had overtime levels of 11.5% versus 15.5% in those with poor or very poor morale (Figure 3).3

Figure 3. Overtime and morale in a facility.3

Overtime  Morale 

#4 - Increased Absenteeism

Excessive overtime can lead to absenteeism as a result of poor health, fatigue, or people simply needing to take time off. Absences often need to be covered by replacement employees, often working overtime themselves, making the problem self-perpetuating.

Excessive overtime can also result in morale problems, which can be manifested as low productivity, absenteeism, turnover and labor issues. In Circadian’s Shiftwork Practices 2004, 31% of shift work companies with very high overtime levels (more than 10 hours per employee per week) had poor morale. Conversely, only 13% of companies with normal overtime amounts had poor morale. Morale was reflected in absenteeism levels: 54% of operations with high overtime also had absenteeism levels above 9%, compared with only 23% of operations with normal levels of overtime.

This is not to say that all absenteeism is a result of employee response to overtime—companies with high absenteeism will often use overtime to fill vacancies. However, it is likely that the problem is self-perpetuating to some degree.

#5 - Increased Turnover Rates

It follows that another adverse effect of excessive absenteeism will be increased turnover, as the lack of work-life balance and fatigue resulting from excessive overtime finally catch up with some employees. Again, as with absenteeism, companies with high turnover are also likely to have high overtime, as employees must work to make up for vacant positions if demand is to be met.

Turnover as a direct result of working excessive hours is more likely in non-hourly positions, where the employees are not being paid a premium to work the extra hours.


While there are clearly a myriad of issues associated with employee overtime rates, there are a variety of ways to mitigate the negative effects of overtime. The proper solutions for managing overtime can vary based on industry, company size, work environment, and many other factors. It is key to recognize that overtime policies should be regularly assessed to determine their effectiveness.

Managing Overtime

To properly manage the direct and indirect costs associated with excessive overtime, employers should do the following:

• Reduce unscheduled absences by addressing the root cause(s) of them.

• Ensure staffing levels are appropriate and that they meet varying demand through the day, week, month and year.

• Review policies and procedures to ensure that they do not encourage excessive overtime.

• Take steps to increase productivity during the regular workweek.

Choosing Appropriate Level of Overtime

The appropriate level of overtime for a particular facility depends on a number of factors, including whether your employees must be paid an overtime premium, training and recruitment costs, safety and quality issues, and the cost of the benefits package.

Interested in learning more about overtime? Curious as to how overtime may be negatively impacting your current operations? Download our FREE white paper titled:

Staffing Levels

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CIRCADIAN® is the global leader in providing 24/7 workforce performance and safety solutions for businesses that operate around the clock.  Through a unique combination of consulting expertise, research and technology, software tools and informative publications, CIRCADIAN helps organizations in the 24-hour economy optimize employee performance and reduce the inherent risks and costs of their extended hours operations.


  1. Bureau of Labor & Statistics. Current Employment Statistics. 2013.
  2. Circadian’s Shiftwork Practices 2002.
  3. Circadian’s Shiftwork Practices 2004.
  4. Circadian shift worker database.
  5. Van der Hulst M. Long Work Hours and Health. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health 2003;29.
  6. A standard 12-hour schedule is not counted in this definition, as it is usual to work three or four days a week when working these schedules.
  7. Daltroy LH et al. A case-control study of risk factors for industrial low back injury: implications for primary and secondary prevention programs. Am Journal of Industrial Medicine 1991;20.
  8. Hayashi T et al.. Effect of overtime work on 24-hour ambulatory blood pressure. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine 1996;38.
  9. Ettner SL, Grzywacz JG. Workers’ perceptions of how jobs affect health: a social ecological perspective. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology 2001;6.
  10. Lowery JT et al. Risk factors for injury among construction workers at Denver International Airport. American Journal of Industrial Medicine 1998 Aug;34.
  11. Rosa RR. Extended workshifts and excessive fatigue. Journal of Sleep Research 1995;4.
  12. Cornell University. Industrial and Labor Relations, Institute for Workplace Studies. Overtime and the American Worker.1999
  13. Shields M. Long Working Hours and Health. Health Reports, Autumn 1999; 11.
  14. Kirkaldy B et al. Working Hours, Job Stress, Work Satisfaction, and Accident Rates Among Medical Practitioners and Allied Personnel. International Journal of Stress Management 1997;4.
  15. Nevison J, Overtime Hours: The Rule of Fifty.
  16. Permission from Nevison, Oak Associates.
  17. Shepard E, Clifton T. Are Long Hours Reducing Productivity in Manufacturing. International Journal of Manpower 2000;7.



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