June 9, 2022

WGU and WGIS Highlight the Dangers of Mental Distress, Stress and Fatigue in the Workplace

By Anna Bilderbach and Ken Cooper

We all know the dangers of substance use on the job. Did you know that mental distress, stress, and fatigue are also impairing?

Faced with labor shortages, supply-chain problems, and growing economic concerns, today’s leaders face an unprecedented uphill battle to grow their businesses. Employers are evaluating how these ongoing challenges affect workers with higher degrees of mental distress (anxiety), stress, and fatigue (burnout). The American Institute of Stress reported that 83 percent of US workers suffer from work-related stress, resulting in almost a million workers calling out daily and costing businesses up to $300 billion yearly in production loss. Employers across America are beginning to take proactive measures to create a mental health-friendly workplace, reduce potential workplace injuries, and protect its most valued resource—the workers.

Employees may suffer from mental impairment, a hidden risk that prevents them from being their best and safely completing tasks. In the past “mental health” carried a negative stigma, provoking workers to hide their struggles from others, distracting them from common safety measures, and leaving their condition unaddressed. The results? Higher turnover, greater absenteeism, and lower performance.  A worker’s mental health varies from person to person; anxiety, stress, and fatigue may manifest themselves in different ways and for reasons, such as:

Mental Distress (Anxiety)

Cause: Not related to an underlying condition

  • Persistent/excessive worry that does not go away, even when stressor is gone
  • Restlessness
  • Nervousness
  • Exaggerated tension about daily life


Cause: Triggered by external adversity


  • Work deadline
  • Financial problems


  • Inability to find work
  • Chronic illness
  • Family challenges
  • Lack of connection

Fatigue (Burnout)

Cause: How someone is managed

  • Unfair treatment at work
  • Micromanaged
  • Unmanageable workload/deadlines
  • Lack of role clarity/expectations/support
  • Toxic team dynamics
  • Serving a toxic handler
  • Growing role complexities
  • A sense of lack of control or ability to make decisions

It is no secret that a worker’s anxiety, stress, and fatigue directly impact their employer. The American Psychology Association reported that nearly 59 percent of workers have experienced an increase in work-related stress, including a lack of interest, motivation, difficulty focusing, and a general lack of effort, making them more prone to workplace injuries. In addition, workers are experience physical and emotional issues as they struggle to navigate through the pandemic and the constant workplace changes, social unrest, and political division, such as:

  • Mental Stress (Anxiety) and Stress

    • Anger / Irritability

    • Constant Sense of Urgency

    • Difficulty Concentrating

    • Fatigue / Insomnia

    • Muscle Tension / Digestive Troubles

    • Sadness / Excessive Stress

    • Reactive / Overreactive Emotions

  • Fatigue (Burnout)

    • Emotional Exhaustion / Disengagement

    • Blunted / Distant Emotions

    • Sense of Helplessness

    • Motivation is Lost or Diminished

    • Feelings of Depression

    • Emotionally Tolling

    • Exasperated

Physical and mental fatigue can increase the likelihood that an employee will experience a work-related injury. According to the National Safety Council, 13 percent of workplace injuries can be attributed to forms of fatigue. One specific area where fatigue can be especially problematic for worker safety is fleet safety.  Physical and mental fatigue can add additional distraction to the already extensive list of distractions facing employees operating vehicles and other mobile machinery.

Support workers by:

  • Asking what they need (don’t assume)
  • Encouraging them to take time to care for their health (if necessary, review their benefits with them)
  • Providing them with meaningful resources, such as your employee assistance programs
  • Displaying mental wellbeing poster
  • Adjusting policies to allow for more frequent and restful breaks.
  • Demonstrating empathy and proactively assist workers with gaining access to mental health services today.
  • Training managers to look for signs of fatigue

Telematics, a form of vehicle software that combines the features of telecommunications and informatics, can help employers effectively manage and monitor their fleet and increase their focus on driver safety.  In addition to providing opportunities to bolster fleet safety and reduce operational costs, data around general driving behaviors, some telematics solutions provide data-based feedback for employers to take prompt action regarding distracted driving incidents including those related to fatigue. For more information regarding how telematics might benefit your operations, please contact Western Growers Insurance Services.

Western Growers University provides a training on educational and compliance-related topics including supervisory skills, harassment prevention, and leadership development. To learn more about Workplace Burnout and Mental Wellness and other topics, contact Anna Bilderbach, Learning and Development Manager for Western Growers, at abilderbach@wga.com.

Western Growers Insurance Services is a full-service insurance brokerage offering a suite of insurance and tailored risk management solutions to agribusiness and related industry members. For more information or assistance, please contact Ken Cooper, Director Risk Strategy for Western Growers Insurance Services, at KCooper@wgis.com

June has been designated as National Safety Month by the National Safety Council. This event is intended to increase awareness of workplace safety topics and reinforce our collaborative responsibility to keep each other safe. Safety is everyone’s responsibility!

This article is one of a four-part, weekly series following the topics designated for National Safety Month. 

The topics are:

Week 1: Musculoskeletal Injuries – These are the leading cause of workplace injury and cost billions each year in workers’ compensation and lost productivity costs.

Week 2: Workplace Impairment – We all know the dangers of substance use on the job. Did you know that mental distress, stress, and fatigue are also impairing?

Week 3: Injury Prevention – In 2020 alone, more than four million workplace injuries required medical attention in the U.S. Focus on preventive measures can improve organizational efficiency and reduce costs associated with workplace injuries.

Week 4: Slips, Trips, Falls – A frequent cause of significant workplace injury and associated costs, these types of incidents are often preventable.