What is an afternoon slump and how does it affect your employees?

During an 8-hour working day, everyone experiences fluctuations in energy, which is entirely natural. But what if the mid-afternoon decline in performance is so great that it interferes with carrying out work tasks?

Celebrating birthdays together, throwing Christmas and Easter office parties, or having doughnuts on ‘Fat Thursday’ – such workplace traditions are so people-friendly and popular that we tend to see nothing but advantages in them. This also applies to the financial aspect. There are plenty of reports on why and how to incorporate, for example, Fat Thursday festivities, into business costs as a bonus to increase employee loyalty [1]. However, it doesn’t take a scientific study to figure out how a massive dose of carbohydrates affects the team. After a short-lived sugar high, drowsiness sets in and work performance drops, often down to zero. Of course, this is no reason to give up good employee engagement practices altogether. But what if the problem occurs again and again? Or even every day?

Afternoon slump, or a midday dip in energy and focus, is a fairly common phenomenon. Work productivity is the highest early during the working day. Then, it naturally declines, hitting a low point between 1 pm and 3 pm. This is the time when we tend to feel sluggish and distracted. The natural energy dip becomes an issue when it increases to an extent that hampers work engagement... or occurs every day, and becomes excessive. What could be the underlying reasons?

Fatigue is not the only problem. During the afternoon slump, many people also suffer headaches, muscle weakness, problems with vision, irritability, and sudden cravings for sweet treats. If these symptoms grow severe, they may affect not only performance at work, but also relationships within the team and healthy eating habits [2].

Common causes of mid-afternoon energy slump
  • Insufficient amount of sleep

According to last year’s STADA Health Report, 57% of Poles use sleep medications [3]. Why? The same report shows that almost half of the Polish population (a staggering 47%!) worry about everyday events instead of relaxing. Sleep disturbances at night have a major adverse effect on the next day’s energy levels, which causes anxiety about work, ultimately resulting in a vicious circle of stress.

  • Unhealthy eating habits

It’s no coincidence that Fat Thursday is mentioned here. It’s an unapologetic celebration of simple carbohydrates. Making things worse, they’re consumed on an ad hoc basis, without proper intervals between meals. Meanwhile, dietitians point directly to the link between a properly balanced diet (importantly, it also includes carbohydrates, as long as they’re consumed rationally), and dips in energy during the day . Studies conducted by the Health Enhancement Research Organization show that employees who regularly eat healthy meals are 25 percent more productive at work compared to people who don’t have a healthy eating routine [4].

  • Poorly planned workout regime

Is exercise good for your health? Of course! But, like everything else, physical activity should be planned and pursued with common sense. For example, a morning workout may increase the release of cortisol, and the resulting stress impairs the quality of work [5]. Consequently, it’s better to discuss the exercise regime with a trainer after describing your individual daily routine and the nature of your work.

  • Inadequate hydration

For every kilogram of body weight, people should consume approximately 0.02 liter of water. Consequently, an adult person should drink around 1.5 to 2 liters of water per day for optimal hydration. In hot weather, the volume increases up to 5 liters [6]. Unfortunately, we often forget about it in the hustle and bustle of daily life. The effects of dehydration come on in the afternoon, in the form of distraction and fatigue.

  • Overwhelming stress

In addition to its adverse impact on sleep, stress interferes with productivity during the day. All too often, we focus on physiological aspects and, for example, mistakenly attribute drowsiness to digestion, while it’s actually due to the brain demanding a respite from stressors [7].

Did you know that... as many as 15% of Poles do not eat anything at all during their working day and more than 50% do not drink enough fluids [8, 9]? More information about the nutritional mistakes of Polish employees and ways to support them in their pursuit of healthy habits can be found HERE.