Lots of organisations are thankfully paying attention to employee wellbeing, some in a very holistic way. But one topic seems to get missed off the list and yet it’s so incredibly relevant to wellbeing, productivity and workplace performance: sleep.
Sleep deprivation is endemic in western society, for a variety of reasons. We are, as Prof. Matthew Walker has pointed out, the only mammals who voluntarily deprive ourselves of sleep. It might be because we can’t bear to turn off the TV while Netflix plays our newest obsession. It may be because we’re sitting up in bed with a laptop answering work emails at night. It may be because worries from the working day follow us to the bedroom and keep us awake.
The bottom line is that many employees are regularly getting insufficient sleep and it’s something we need to talk about. Public Health England has reported that the annual cost of poor sleep to the British economy is around £30bn. Additionally, about 200,00 working days are lot to sleep-related issues.
Yes, since employees do their sleeping at home, it’s easy to think of this as a personal issue. But I propose that it’s relevant for organisations for a number of reasons.
1. Sleep disruption can negatively impact wellbeing, performance, attention, errors and accidents in the workplace
Sleep disturbance impacts our decision-making, emotional expression and memory. So sleep-starved employees will be less productive and may well be harder to work with, as their frustration and upset will more readily come out.
Employees without sufficient sleep can engage in more risk-taking behaviour. It’s no coincidence that so many industrial accidents have taken place during the night shift – when workers are often sleep deprived for weeks at a time.
2. Some roles or activities in your organisation may actually impact employees’ ability to get good quality sleep
Employees who have to work across shifts or whose working hours fluctuate can experience sleep disturbance. Additionally, those whose job requires them to travel internationally may find their disrupted sleep habits mean less sleep overall.
3. Your organisation’s culture may be unintentionally reinforcing bad sleep habits
If long hours and a culture of presenteeism exists in your organisation, your leaders may be indicating that ‘sleep is for the weak’ and that it’s acceptable to cut back on sleep to focus on the job. This may unintentionally lead employees to remain ‘connected’ at all hours – checking email in bed, waking in the night to respond to messages, or simply experiencing sleep disruption due to the discomfort of not seeing their email inbox.
4. Job-related stress, workload management and interpersonal conflict can all negatively impact sleep
There is no finite list of factors that can disrupt our sleep, but a number of workplace issues can most certainly make it harder for employees to get good quality sleep. Work-related stress and pressure can directly impact our ability to sleep well, as can difficult workplace relationships and conflict. Not everyone leaves work in the workplace and the psychological ‘hangover’ from workplace difficulties can linger long into the night.
5. Nothing else your wellbeing programme provides can make up for disrupted sleep
So much of what organisations offer in their wellbeing initiatives is well-meant and positively communicated. But no matter how much time to you invest in yoga, stress management and resilience training, employees’ sleep issues can undermine all of these positive initiatives. It’s hard to effectively manage your work pressures if you’re not getting sufficient good quality sleep. And all you’ll do in the yoga class is fall asleep…
6. Multiple myths about sleep persists, which can contribute to the problem
As we all sleep, we can all feel like sleep experts! And while it’s part of our shared experience, this doesn’t mean we all understand it equally well. It’s just another area in life that’s prone to myths, fads and misunderstanding. These can sometimes contribute to sleep disruption and, at a minimum, contribute to our poor understanding of what works well. And no, cheese doesnt give you nightmares!
7. Healthy sleep habits are a building-block of physical and psychological resilience
Workplace wellbeing initiatives are usually aimed at keeping employees healthy and productive. Sleep is one of the most important elements of our wellbeing, so shouldn’t really be left up to chance. And training in healthy sleep habits could arguably be a better investment of time and money than some of the many faddish activities organisations are including these days.
The bottom line is that if your organisation wants to support and maintain employee wellbeing, then emphasising healthy sleep needs to be part of any coordinated programme.
How we can help
We can facilitate our ‘Sleep 101’ lunchtime learning session. Part of our ‘Wellbeing Essentials’ series, it’s just 90mins in duration. It covers the myths about sleep, illustrates how much sleep contributes to our wellbeing and explores how we can contribute to our own sleep issues with our habits and lifestyle. We finish with an action planning session, so attendees can commit their actions to paper and start their better sleep journey the same day.