Fatigue makes cowards of us all

If you're exhausted at work, what does that mean for those around you?
If you're exhausted at work, what does that mean for those around you?

I WATCHED a documentary recently on Jimmy Johnson, the former NFL coach, and a section where he was addressing his players stood out.

He told them: ‘When you're tired, you make mistakes, you don't do what's right, and your will to win all of a sudden, starts to waver just a little bit. You get tired and all of a sudden you don't have that same fight. Fatigue makes cowards of us all.’

Now no-one is quite sure where the final line of the quote came from (some say Vince Lombardi, some say General George Patton, but it’s immaterial I guess). The point is that you can be skilful, intelligent, insightful, experienced, hard-nosed, tough, dedicated: all of those things. But fatigue can turn you into a coward.

It means that when you come near the end of a game and you haven’t done enough fitness work to last that full 90, 70, or 60 minutes, you start to abdicate responsibility. Rather than demand the ball, you expect someone else to make something happen. Rather than make that support run, you hang back. Instead of tracking your man, you pass him on. Rather than steady yourself and take that shot from distance, you recycle the ball.

You take the easy way out because are afraid you don’t have enough left to do what needs to be done to win. You have nothing left in the tank and so you become a coward.

In a sporting context this is something you can control. It’s within your gift to be better conditioned, better prepared and (more often than not) better rested before a game. It’s a choice. You chose to put the effort in to be fit, or not.

Now translate that to the workplace. There are various types of fatigue employees can experience. Mental, emotional and physical for example. All with different symptoms and signs.

And if you are exhausted at work what does that mean? It means that you can struggle to go that extra mile, you won’t be as diligent as you should, you take short cuts and do the bare minimum. That can even set a precedent and you start to drag other people’s standards down with you.

Maybe you work longer hours because you can’t energise yourself enough to find a way to work smartly. Maybe you don’t double check, or even single check your work. Maybe you don’t put yourself forward for that promotion or take on that new project because you simply don’t feel you can provide the requisite energy and effort. Tiredness manifests in lots of ways.

And just like in the sporting arena, to try and rectify this you should start with the factors that you can control.

First up, you can be honest with yourself and admit there is an issue. Too often we choose to ignore how tired we feel and claim it’s ‘normal’. Then address the basics: you go to bed at the right time, you eat healthily, you exercise, you switch off all those blue light emitting devices, you structure your work better, you drink less coffee and more water.

Even where you feel you can’t control or affect matters it may be possible to speak to someone else who can. Don’t just settle: approach your manager, HR or even your colleagues.

Of course, there can occasionally be serious physiological or psychological issues that contribute, and in those cases, you might consider specialist help. If you are taking the exercise, drinking the water, getting enough sleep for example and you still feel constantly tired, that should be a signal to speak with your doctor.

Often, however the simple fixes work. It’s just a case of breaking a cycle of bad habits, creating good ones and remembering that the starting point is always yourself.

:: Barry Shannon ( is HR director at Cayan in Belfast