FATIGUE STUDY - The Elimination of Humanity’s Greatest Unnecessary Waste by FRANK B. GILBRETH, chapter name PRELIMINARY PROVISIONS FOR REST FOR OVERCOMING FATIGUE


Provision for Rest.

The first necessity in our fight against fatigue is to eliminate the causes of unnecessary fatigue. The second is to provide for proper rest to overcome fatigue, whether necessary or unnecessary.

If the worker goes home too tired each night, the first method of remedying this condition is to provide rest periods during the working day—to set aside time in which he may recover his proper and normal working strength. One method by which this may be sometimes done is by shortening the working day. This permits the worker to get into better condition either before work, after work, during a lengthened noon hour, or during the “second breakfast” and “tea recess” of many European organizations. The supposed advantage of this plan is that it gives little or no jolt to the working process. To this we might answer, as circumstances vary, that it does give a jolt, because speed must be increased in order that output should be maintained; or we might say that the jolt is really needed. The disadvantage, in some cases, of shortening the working hours is the effect upon the entire industry in the vicinity. This is a feature to be considered, for in the long run maximum prosperity is dependent upon largest outputs. There can be no doubt that in most cases it is advisable and profitable to shorten working hours, but how and when this is to be done is a serious problem. In our own office, our stenographers work every other Saturday till 1:00 P.M. only, and the alternating Saturday they do not work at all; that is to say, we give them a holiday of Saturday afternoon and Sunday every other week, and all Saturday and Sunday the other weeks, besides their regular two-weeks vacation in summer. We find that we get more and better work as a result. No plant, operating under the measured type of management, that we know of, has ever regretted shortening its working hours. It may be that the working hours formerly existing were so long that shortening the hours was the only immediate adequate remedy. The danger in shortening hours is that, if the whole problem is not thoroughly studied, the worker may not be sure of the same or a larger wage for work which he is able to do in the shorter time. Fatigue elimination is fundamentally the duty of the management. The worker cannot afford to pay for the fatigue elimination, directly or indirectly. Let the short hours be planned for and assured, but make sure before introducing them that everything is in such condition that wages can be maintained or raised. This is a matter requiring study of actual records and not “guess,” “personal opinion,” or “judgment.”

There are other methods of providing for fatigue elimination or recovery, that do not involve so many elements. Such a method is providing rest periods during the working day. This is a method that may be used immediately. To whom are these rest periods to be given, then? Ultimately, of course, to every member of the organization whose work is of a nature that requires a fixed rest period. The work should, preferably, be so arranged that every worker, be he in plant or in management, would achieve larger outputs by having definite and properly located rest periods. It has been proved in most work that more output can be achieved by applying one’s self steadily for short periods, and then resting, than by applying one’s self less steadily and having no rest periods. This, of course, applies only to work which in itself provides no rest periods. At the beginning of the fatigue eliminating campaign, provide rest periods for those who seem to need them most. There are two, off-hand, quick methods of determining which workers these are. One is the appearance of the workers at various times of the day, and at the end of the day. The other is the amount of output and the rate that output is turned out by the worker during the day and during the various parts of the day. In some organizations, it has been the standard practice to take no chances when the worker looks or feels tired. They provide rest periods immediately, long enough to allow him to recover and go back to the work with zest. This is, of course, the immediate remedy. “Provide the rest period first. Discuss its efficiency later.” This first-aid plan has worked splendidly for a long time among women workers in such industries as the drygoods trades. The typical welfare work may be unscientific from the standpoint of those familiar with highly organized methods, but it has sensed the trouble keenly and quickly, and provided at least a temporary remedy without delay. “Time to rest when one needs it.” This is the first slogan of the campaign for eliminating the evils of overfatigue.

Chairs to Make the Rest Most Effective.

The merchants have again been the pioneers here, in realizing that reclining chairs or couches furnish the most effective rest. It is not necessary here to discuss the physiological effects resulting from a change of blood pressure. It should be noted that even a few minutes in a reclining position provides such rest as could not be gained in a much longer time if seated upright in the most comfortable of chairs. If attending conditions allow of reclining chairs or couches, for at least the exceptional and emergency cases, these should immediately be provided. It surely does take real courage for the management of an organization of strong and strenuous men to install reclining chairs, couches, and high foot-rests for rest periods; but fame awaits the one in this field, who can make the practice general. The brain worker of all types has long realized the benefits of the occasional use of the reclining chair. Flat couches without even the smallest of pillows are a part of the regular working equipment of some of our greatest brain workers. It is considered no disgrace, nor is it worthy of note, if a tired soldier flings himself flat upon the ground to rest. It attracts no attention for an exhausted worker to go to sleep on a hard wooden bench at noontime. But to put a couch in some quiet spot, or even a chair with extra-high, large, flat, arm rests, where the same type of rest might be enjoyed most effectively, this seems radical, and “might make the men think we had gone crazy.” It might be objected that the worker should not allow himself to become so fatigued that this type of rest is necessary. The answer is,—if rest in this position will overcome what is almost complete exhaustion, what increases in national efficiency and prosperity may it not cause in overcoming quickly less violent stages of fatigue?

Next to the couch or reclining chair, in efficiency, is the arm-chair. There are “arm-chairs,” and chairs with real arms specially fitted to the individual worker. These will be even more efficient if provided with a foot-rest. We have actually installed such arm-chairs out in the works with very good results. We have had many a case where even the workers laughed loudly when the special, unusual chairs were brought in. They began to use them more out of friendliness towards us than out of any belief in the special usefulness of these peculiar chairs. However, at the end of a few days of actual use, they were able to handle their work in greater quantities and with less fatigue. “It’s a joke to work like that,” one said. Some of the workers claimed that they did not need such a chair, but, after it became the fashion to use it, each one seemed glad enough for the better rest provided.

From this type of chair down to the smallest possible seat, the gradation is gradual and constant. In certain types of work, like selling in a drygoods store, the space is sometimes so narrow that the only type of chair practicable, under present conditions, is the small folding seat that can slip under the shelves or fold up against them when the girl is serving a customer. Such also is the type of chair that folds up under or next to a machine, which the operator is tending, and which can be pulled out during the periods when the machines need no tending, and the operator is simply inspecting or waiting for the next tending period. Every one realizes the advantage, as a resting device, of anything upon which one can occasionally sit. The two-inch, iron arm of a seat on a railroad train, the tiny seat that folds into a walking stick or umbrella, that the enthusiast at the races takes with him,—these are typical examples of seats that seem almost ridiculous, yet that have an enormous effect upon the amount of fatigue accumulated in a few hours, or in a day. “A chair to rest in;” this is the second slogan. If a chair is not procurable, then some sort of a seat, even a packing box with no back, even a post to lean against, or a rail to lean upon,—anything to shift the pressure is better than nothing. Far better a seat with no back, immediately, than the best type of chair in the indefinite future. Get some sort of seat for the worker to-day, and begin planning for the efficient chair at the first day possible.

The final word on chairs in this preliminary work is that some sort of a chair should be provided for every member of the organization. There is a wide-spread belief that one chair for every two or three or more workers is sufficient; that “they can change off using it.” The argument was something like this: “No one needs to sit more than one-third of the time, therefore one chair to each three workers is enough,” etc. The chief fallacy is the implied idea that the rest periods of the workers can be so arranged that the chairs can be in constant use, and that each worker will have a chair at his or her disposal at the proper time. Now in theory, of course, this is not an impossible arrangement. It might have to be made if chairs and seats cost many dollars apiece, and it probably would be done then, if there was a proper realization of the importance of overcoming fatigue. But when chairs are as cheap and plentiful as they are now, there is no excuse for thinking of such a condition. In practice, where there are not enough chairs for every one, at certain times of the day the chairs are empty, as every one is busy. At other times, when work is duller, the chairs are all used, and many workers are trying to rest as best they can, standing. These conditions can be noted in any drygoods store, in any shop or factory where there is an inadequate supply of chairs. “A seat for each and every worker whether he needs it or not;” this is the third slogan.

Betterment Work.

The third division of provision for rest falls under the general heading of betterment work, or what is popularly called “welfare work.” The term “betterment work” is used by those who are interested in measured management instead of “welfare work,” to emphasize a distinction in thought. Some welfare work implies that it is the gift of the manager to the workers. Betterment work is the same type of work, done with the distinct understanding that what is done is for the good and profit of the organization. It is the due of every member of the organization to have the best resting condition possible. Making these conditions better is betterment work. There is no intention to criticize welfare work. Most welfare work is betterment work. Some workers, however, object to welfare work as implying “charity.” Therefore, we say betterment work. It is the worker’s due that he gets. Such work comprises establishing rest rooms, lunch rooms, entertainments—anything that can make the resting time more attractive and profitable. It may also imply the service of a betterment worker or a staff of such workers; or it may be that the organization itself takes up the work co-operatively, with no outsider to direct it. Doubtless some such activity already exists. If so, it would be the duty of the fatigue eliminators to recognize it and encourage it.

The fourth provision for rest is really a part of betterment work. It must be described at some length. This is the Home Reading Box Movement, which furnishes a definite means for making rest periods, both at work and at home, attractive and profitable. Before turning to a description of this, we may estimate the effect upon the worker of the preliminary work so far done.


The results of the preliminary work we have done are as follows:

1. The interest in fatigue becomes more vital. We have aroused more interest in fatigue elimination, and have made it general. With the establishment of properly distributed rest periods, chairs, seats, etc., the recovery process becomes interesting. As he knows how resting improves his working conditions, the worker becomes more warmly interested in the fatigue itself. It is a very different thing to talk about the evils of fatigue, or even to see the advantages of proper rest exhibited in object lessons, than it is to get proper rest in a specially designed chair for the first time in one’s working life. Fatigue, which was an enemy, becomes now not only my enemy, but our enemy—mine, because I recognize it has affected me; ours, because we are fighting it together for our best interests, severally and collectively.

2. The interest in fatigue becomes more intelligent. Many workers, especially women, feel that it is to be expected that they will get exceedingly tired by night; that one cannot expect to do so much late in the day as early in the day; that stopping to rest is cutting down one’s output, thus cheating one’s self, if one is a piece rate worker, or cheating the management, if one is a day rate worker. The worker now comes to realize that he hurts the management and himself, when he gets too tired. “It is your duty to rest when you need it;” that is the fourth slogan. It must be remembered also that the rest periods provide time for clearer and more intelligent thinking. It is impossible to come to any valid conclusion when one is working at top speed part of the day, and in a state of exhaustion the rest of the time. We have now an opportunity to think, and brains rested enough with which to think.

3. The output increases. Usually, in practice, the output increases as a result of the fatigue-recovery periods. Increased outputs encourage both management and worker. They must, however, be inspected and controlled. Some one with the proper training must be in charge, that excessive fatigue may not be accumulated, and the rest periods lose their purpose. With the increase in output must come added compensation in wages. If this is provided, the fatigue eliminating campaign will not be regarded as a new scheme for driving the worker. Better for the good of the management and the men to limit the output to its usual amount during this period, until the workers see that too much fatigue to-day interferes with the standard quantity of output to-morrow, than to attempt to allow increased output without increased pay. The world can better afford to lose the extra product, than the management to appear even for a moment to be trying to overwork the men.

4. The spirit of co-operation grows. The worker realizes instinctively, if the survey has been properly made, and if this preliminary work has been properly done, that the aim of fatigue study is the good of all concerned. There is a psychological element to this. It might be possible to question the motive of installing fatigue eliminating devices. There is no question as to the motive in installing the resting devices and rest periods. The rest periods allow time for development of the social spirit. “To know all is to understand all,” a wise Frenchman has said. “I like every one whom I know,” is the thought of another wise man. “Let’s go at the fatigue survey all together,” is the fifth slogan. The Home Reading Box Movement is, perhaps, the channel where this spirit of co-operation expresses itself most freely.


Preliminary provision for rest for overcoming fatigue consists of establishing rest periods, providing chairs or other devices in which one may rest, and establishing or encouraging betterment work. These result in a more vital and intelligent interest in fatigue, and a spirit of co-operation. This work is embodied in five slogans. These are as follows: “Time to rest when one needs it;” “A seat to rest in;” “A seat for each and every worker whether he needs it or not;” “It is your duty to rest when you need it,” and “Let’s go at the fatigue survey all together.”