Sleep deprivation might be the next big issue in employee wellbeing
Burning the candle at both ends is having a dramatic effect on the working public’s health and their professional lives.
Sleep deprivation is estimated to cost the UK economy up to £40 billion a year through absence and lost productivity. Meanwhile, over 61% of employees in the UK report they’re unhappy with the amount of sleep they’re getting and less than 10% feel they wake up refreshed in the morning.
Employees with sleep deprivation are already in your workplace, and helping them diminish the effects and risks requires their cooperation and some help from your employee wellbeing strategy.
How the lack of sleep is affecting your workforce
A prominent part of the effects of lack of sleep in the workplace is the pronounced effect on physical wellbeing. Harm seeps into almost all areas of an employee’s health when there are long periods without adequate rest.
Lack of sleep affects the immune system, cognitive skills, weight management, the risk of heart disease, the development of sleep apnoea and hormone production. These accumulated health problems eventually lead to absences, costing you days of productivity in the office.
There’s also a pronounced effect on the ability of staff to contribute on the days they do appear for work.
Communication suffers as employees are less likely to take part in collaborative efforts with their peers due to tiredness. Work output is hurt by fatigue making staff irritable, more difficult to work with and prone to behaviour which breaks down workplace harmony.
Sleep deprivation makes it difficult for staff to take in and process new information. They’ll be less able to think creatively, adjust their work processes to respond to changing circumstances or take leadership on projects.
Sleep deprived staff make avoidable errors, miss crucial tasks and confuse details as their cognitive skills decline. At best their work requires correction, at worst it could lead to more severe consequences for their company.
To compound these problems, staff with poor sleep habits are more likely to take risks, less likely to anticipate negative outcomes, and perhaps worst of all, less likely to be able to identify the problems with their own performance.
What your company can do to help
Sleep deprivation can’t be cured by one good night’s rest if the deprivation is prolonged. Employees will have to find a way to allow themselves to get more sleep every night and catch up, or the condition will deteriorate.
However, the modern workplace is demanding, and sleep is often the first thing sacrificed when employees are forced to start making choices between their professional achievements, time with family and friends and getting seven or eight hours’ rest.
Your business can help alleviate the effect lack of sleep is having on your workforce by making some adjustments to your workplace and employee wellbeing provision.
Make room for exercise during the day
A big contributor to poor sleep is the prevalence of sedentary lifestyles, which make up an increasing number of jobs. Even just ten minutes of intense exercise during the day can help increase the duration and quality of the sleep your employees get at night while making them more alert during their work hours.
Manage health, not emergencies
Allow employees with prolonged periods of poor sleep to take time off or work shorter hours to allow for sleep recovery. Managing an employee’s health problems, including sleep issues, should always be preferable to dealing with consistent poor performance and unplanned absences.
A major source of sleeplessness is stress and anxiety about work. Opening avenues for employees to talk about their stress, as well as making an effort to spot and manage stress in employees, will help alleviate fretting about their work. Communicate with employees, identify their stressors and set up pathways for assistance.
Turf employees out when they try to stay late
Unless there’s a pressing reason for an employee to stay late in the office, seriously consider turning off the lights and giving them the boot. Not only is the prolonged exposure to their computer more likely to contribute to poor sleep, good sleep is also likely to be the first thing on the chopping block if they’re trying to keep up with social and family obligations while working long hours.
Discourage late night emails
Combining workplace stress with email on phones is a recipe for sleepless nights staring at tiny screens. If you notice employees sending emails well into the small hours, ask them to put the phone away and get more rest. The work will still be there in the morning regardless of a few harried 2:00am emails.