October 26, 2018

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Sleep deprivation

A lack of sleep can severely affect daily life, and work is no exception

We all know how difficult it is to work when we’re tired but are you aware of the effects on others? Maddy Keating from MHR explores.

Sleep deprivationSleep deprivation can affect all types of people no matter what industry, and it is an issue which must be treated with careful consideration. Everyone knows that after a bad night’s sleep, the next day at work is a real drag. Coffee becomes a lifeline as you battle to keep your eyes open, struggling to read that project brief or presentation.

It’s an issue that becomes ever more pressing in the winter months, waking up in the dark makes it even more difficult to leave the bed in the morning, and makes it all the more unlikely that a productive day awaits.

SHP recently reported that a RAND Europe report estimated that sleep deprivation costs the UK economy $50bn or £40bn.

The consequences of losing sleep

There are many consequences to not getting enough sleep. Decision making can be affected which could lead to unhealthy food choices and less exercise, the result of which is often less creativity and less productivity. This means that a good night’s sleep is crucial to your health and wellbeing both in and out of the workplace.

Moreover, not just productivity can be negatively affected from sleep deprivation. Selfishness is another side effect as people are less likely to inconvenience themselves when tired. This means that teamwork is hindered as collaboration becomes undesirable.

Recent research shows that managers who don’t get the right level of sleep take it out on their teams, becoming the ultimate engagement turn-off. They’re more likely to give harsher feedback or provide less support towards meeting deadlines and completing objectives. This pushes their people away, reducing trust and team morale, which ultimately ruins productivity and motivation.

The reason for this lies in self-control. The worse the night’s sleep, the less self-control you have, reducing communication capabilities to blunt, rude or sarcastic comments. Whilst your managers might sleep off their bad moods and come in the next day feeling cheerful, the resentment employees feel is likely to last a bit longer. Over time, this can really affect team dynamics and workplace engagement. And with bad managers a systemic problem across organisations, a lack of sleep shouldn’t be adding to the issue.

Getting a good night’s sleep, with recommended levels between 7-9 hours every day, is crucial for employees, regardless of their position, for both their own wellbeing as well as those around them.

Whilst lack of sleep as a whole has consequences for thought-processing and activity, quality is also important. If people get their average amount of sleep but the quality is poor, the same issues tend to arise due to a lack of time in the restorative, Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep stage. This can be even worse because people are less aware of what’s causing their crankiness, and so may not realise the impact their mood is having on others. The difficulty here is that many people suffer stress or anxiety in their day to day lives, which can reduce the ability to enjoy deep sleep. Alcohol, eating too close to bedtime, and late night TV can all cause a decrease in sleep quality, reducing your workforce to ticking time bombs ready to explode.

Whether it’s quality or quantity of sleep, the consequences of not getting enough can be detrimental on your workforce.

Today’s sleep crisis

In today’s busy lives, with work emails pinging into the night, and employees unable to switch off, the value of a decent night sleep is no longer being appreciated. Working adults think it is normal or ‘part of modern life’ to only get 4-5 hours of sleep, sacrificing time in bed due to long commute times or squeezing time in at the gym. Some research has even shown that employees are working an extra 36 days a year by checking emails and carrying out other tasks outside of their contracted hours, such as during their commute, rather than getting that much needed rest. Other key reasons for this were checking emails in bed, either before going to sleep (47%), or immediately on waking up (54%).

If your employees and their managers are skipping that extra hour in bed, your organisation may be full of ill-tempered, caffeine-addicted grumps with morale hitting rock bottom.

Is it time to start sleeping at work?

Employee sleepingSleep pods and relax spaces are slowly entering the workplace as a way to balance work-lives for busy employees, as part of a benefits package. Whilst not popular just yet, these spaces offer workers the chance to get a half hour nap in before starting the afternoon, more effective than a shot of espresso and helping to avoid the afternoon productivity slump. This would help workers with long commutes, who could catch up on sleep during break times.

A third of working adults have said they enjoy an afternoon nap to help them feel more productive or alert. Allowing this as part of the working week within your organisation’s benefits package may help to improve employee productivity and creativity, leading to more growth, innovation and profits for businesses. This would particularly benefit new parents who continue to lose sleep long after maternity/paternity ends.

Having said that, a more straightforward solution to this sleep epidemic may not require an office nap room – simply assess your organisation’s policy on flexible working. Could workers come in late, or start early, in order to avoid rush hour and shorten commute lengths? Is it possible for workers to do their jobs remotely, allowing extra sleep time when not commuting in? Helping your employees to balance their professional and personal lives might be all it takes to increase sleep levels. Not only will this benefit individuals, but the organisation as a whole; more alert employees will help to reduce accidents in the workplace, and increase productivity levels.

Flexible working is not a new concept, but organisations are becoming more aware of its benefits to attract and retain talent. Perhaps it should now also be considered an important part of improving health and wellbeing too, removing stress and boosting overall team morale.

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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