Will Labor Shortages and Year-end Burnout Increase Workplace Injuries this Holiday Season?
Santa may not be coming to town this year after all. Yes, there’s a literal “Santa shortage” right now, and St. Nick isn’t the only one in short supply.1 Employers across virtually every industry continue to struggle with shrinking candidate pools and constant turnover, both of which become particularly perilous during the holiday season when more employees are needed than ever. In 2022, one major retailer alone plans to hire 100,000 seasonal workers – the same number as last year. Conversely, another large retailer has dramatically cut down on its holiday hiring forecast, having announced a plan to bring on just 40,000 seasonal employees this year compared to 150,000 in 2021.2 While some argue that this is a sign of the labor shortage beginning to improve, others attribute reduced seasonal hiring to the fiscal need for employers to “make up” for over-hiring during the pandemic or the assumption that loftier goals are simply out of reach given the current labor landscape.3
The full effects of a perceived labor shortage this holiday season remain to be seen, but one thing is certain: a labor shortage can put employees at increased risk for illness and injury.4 And with classic holiday workplace hazards already a threat for elevated injury rates, employers will need to be vigilant in their efforts to protect the health and safety of their employees this season.
Fa-la-labor shortages and holiday hazards
Not only does a labor shortage pose problems for employers seeking extra holiday help, but it can have an adverse impact on employee safety and health as well. In retail and warehousing, for example, the holiday shopping season leads to a staggering increase in consumer order volumes, which translates to heavier workloads for employees.5 During a labor shortage that prevents employers from filling seasonal positions, current employees may be left with no choice but to work longer hours – sometimes through the night – to meet increased demands. Some of the most obvious risks of longer holiday shift work include fatigue and low morale, but employers should also consider the potential for physical injuries and illness that can occur because of seasonal shift work.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), employees who work more than 12 hours per day are at a 37 percent greater risk for injury, and work-related injuries are 30 percent more common during nighttime work compared with daytime shifts.6 When employees are physically or mentally overworked or fatigued, they are more likely to make mistakes that lead to an injury – like misusing a piece of machinery or falling from a ladder. Stress and lack of sleep can also weaken the immune system, making employees more susceptible to illness – something that is especially concerning at the height of flu season.
The winter season itself further contributes to holiday risks in the workplace. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 17 percent of all vehicle accidents occur during the winter months, thousands of which involve commercial truck drivers who may be fatigued, overworked, or mentally strained.7 Snow and ice during the winter months are often credited for an uptick in slips, trips, and falls during that time. Even something as seemingly innocent as holiday decorating can mean the debut of additional fire hazards and more frequent ladder use – often by employees who aren’t accustomed to working on or around ladders.8 Combine a labor shortage with a doubled or even tripled workload – then add in icy roads, cold temperatures, holiday stress, seasonal distractions, and a partridge in a pear tree – and you could be wrapping more than just presents this year. But with education, awareness, and extra attention, you can help protect your employees from seasonal work-related illness and injury. To minimize the risk of holiday injury and illness, OSHA provides safety recommendations and considerations organized by industry. The U.S. Department of Labor also shares guidelines for creating a safe work environment during the holidays and the hiring and training of seasonal and teenage employees.
Keeping the lights on
It may come as no surprise that employee burnout reaches an all-time high toward the end of each calendar year. It also shouldn’t be a shock to learn that burnout can – and often does – lead to lower productivity and even resignation.9 A lesser-known danger of employee burnout is the potential for injury and illness. When employees become mentally exhausted or disengaged, they may cut corners in their work or make errors, either of which could result in an injury to themselves or co-workers. More serious health concerns, like cardiovascular disease and atrial fibrillation, have been detected in higher rates among employees who reported excessive workplace stress, fatigue, and – specifically – burnout.10 The World Health Organization (WHO) now recognizes and formally defines burnout as a syndrome, outlining steps employers can take to identify and address burnout early in hopes of minimizing its impact on the employee’s health and safety.11
In the same way you turn off your holiday lights, blow out your candles, and unplug your yard decorations, from time to time it is important to give employees regular breaks to reduce strain and allow them time to “recharge.” In industries where the holidays are synonymous with notably heavier workloads, elevated stress levels, and longer hours, OSHA recommends implementing a Fatigue Management Plan to combat fatigue and burnout.(6) This may include a more critical analysis and adjustment of employee scheduling and goal setting. The Mayo Clinic suggests that calming practices, like meditation and yoga, can be beneficial for employees at risk of burning out and even for those who may already be feeling burned out.12 Employers may consider offering access to such classes as a part of their overall employee health and wellness initiative.
Finally, employers should be aware that the risk of year-end burnout doesn’t end when the ball drops in Times Square. In fact, some employees report burnout and lack of motivation being most severe after the holidays – often downplayed as the “January blues.” In January 2022, 4.3 million Americans quit their jobs – just 150,000 less than December of 2021 – but still a near record-high month, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics.13
So, if seasonal labor shortages lead to year-end burnout – and year-end burnout leads to new labor shortages – and both can increase workplace injury and illness rates, what in the winter wonderland is one to do?
In addition to following anti-burnout recommendations from the WHO, OSHA, and other organizations, consider partnering with an occupational health provider like Concentra® as part of your strategy for protecting your workforce from seasonal illness and injury. With episodic flu shot events brought to your workplace, Concentra can help increase your vaccination rates for more widespread protection against the flu virus. Concentra athletic trainers, physical therapists, or occupational therapists can observe movements and behaviors on your warehouse floor and correct improper and potentially dangerous form before it results in an injury – something particularly beneficial when faced with many temporary, young, or inexperienced employees over the holidays. Our knowledgeable workers’ compensation experts can also help you better understand OSHA-mandated safety guidelines and medical surveillance programs to further reduce workplace risks. If an injury does occur, your employees can receive care at one of our 525+ medical centers across the country. For added convenience, particularly during the holidays when some centers may operate with reduced hours or be closed temporarily, injured employees can receive rapid, quality care right away with Concentra Telemed® services – available 24/7, even on Christmas Day.
‘Tis always the season for safety
There’s no doubt about the unique workplace health and safety pitfalls that accompany the holidays but taking a proactive approach toward known risks – like hefty workloads and wintery weather – puts employers in the position to minimize illness and injury rates, keep their employees happier and more productive, and prevent holiday burnout. With Concentra as a partner, employers can have peace of mind knowing that even if a workplace injury does occur, their employees will receive excellent care from an occupational medicine provider who is focused on their safe return to work. And long after the glitter has settled and seasonal work has come to an end, our dedicated team will remain committed to the health and safety of your employees throughout the year. For more information on supporting the wellness of your workforce through a partnership with Concentra, contact us today.
- Stump, Scott. “There’s a Santa shortage this holiday season. Here’s everything you need to know.” Today. December 2, 2022.
- Fickenscher, Lisa. “Target to hire 100,000 workers for holiday shopping season.” NY Post. September 22, 2022.
- Press, Rob. “What You Need To Know About The State Of The Retail Worker Shortage.” Tools Group. October 3, 2022.
- Labor Shortages and Workplace Injuries. Concentra. December 8, 2021.
- Holiday season e-commerce in the U.S. - statistics & facts. Statista Research Department. Statista. December 6, 2022.
- Long Work Hours, Extended or Irregular Shifts, and Worker Fatigue. Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA). Accessed December 6, 2022.
- Winter Driving Safety. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. U.S. Department of Transportation. Accessed December 11, 2022.
- “Deck the Halls” Safely: CPSC Estimates More Than 15,000 Holiday Decorating Injuries During November and December.” Consumer Product and Safety Commission. December 6, 2013.
- Gen Z, Young Millennials Are Stressed at Work. MH&L Staff. Material Handling and Logistics. December 9, 2022.
- Garg PK, Claxton JS, Soliman EZ, et al. Associations of anger, vital exhaustion, anti-depressant use, and poor social ties with incident atrial fibrillation: The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study. European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. 2020;0(0). doi:10.1177/2047487319897163
- Wroth, Carmel. “WHO Redefines Burnout As A 'Syndrome' Linked To Chronic Stress At Work.” National Public Radio (NPR). May 28, 2019.
- “Job burnout: How to spot it and take action,” by the Mayo Clinic Staff. Mayo Clinic. June 5, 2021.
- “4.3 million people quit their jobs in January,” by Abha Bhattarai. The Washington Post. March 9, 2022.