Business in the Community, a nonprofit organization in the UK, and Public Health England, a government agency, have launched a toolkit for employers to use in their efforts to reduce the impact of sleep deprivation on their workforce, Ashleigh Wight reported last week at Personnel Today:
Their Sleep and Recovery Toolkit encourages employers to create the right sleep culture in the workplace. This includes measures such as providing access to natural light, introducing flexitime for employees who travel or work across different time zones, and avoiding or reducing the frequency of emails sent outside of working hours
The toolkit also provides steps for early intervention before sleep deprivation becomes a problem. These include signposting information that may help employees get a better night’s sleep, redesigning individual workers’ jobs if it becomes apparent they could be tired, and encouraging staff to speak up about issues with sleep. A number of measures to aid with recovery are also suggested, such as making sure employees stay hydrated, take screen breaks and use all of their annual leave entitlement.
While sleep deprivation has been a workplace problem at least since the dawn of the modern era and the advent of shift work, advances in neuroscience have enabled researchers in recent years to pinpoint exactly how not getting enough rest makes us worse at our jobs. In addition to diminishing cognitive function and performance, sleep deprivation can harm emotional intelligence, making us more prone to interpersonal conflicts, while leaders who neglect sleep are less charismatic and have a harder time inspiring their teams.
The online mattress manufacturer Casper is one of many companies experimenting with new ways to encourage employees to live healthier lives, in this case by monitoring their exercise and sleep habits and rewarding those who work out and get to bed on time. Leah Fessler profiles the company’s wellness incentive program at Quartz:
Casper co-founder Neil Parikh explains that employees track their exercise and sleep via IncentFit, a fitness-reward app designed for company use. They use the app to “check in” at their desired gym or fitness facility. (Location-based algorithms ensure that you really are at SoulCycle, not on your couch.) IncentFit also rewards running, walking, or biking milage tracked via fitness apps or devices like Fitbit.
Payment is distributed monthly: $20 per fitness facility/class visit, $0.20 per mile walked, $4 per mile ran, $2 per mile biked, and $50 per race completed. The startup has also extended the benefit to rest, encouraging employees to track nightly sleep via IncentFit for $2 per night. Through IncentFit, Casper employees can earn a monthly maximum of $130 for exercise and $60 for sleep—a $190 cap set by Casper’s leadership.
“[A]s an employee, I’d be very nervous about this benefit, particularly who has access to sensitive exercise and sleep data,” organizational psychologist Liane Davey tells Fessler:
Owen Gough at Small Business passes along a study sponsored by UK bed and mattress retailer Time4Sleep, which found that HR professionals are among the most likely types workers to get sleep-deprived due to work-related stress:
Operational (57 per cent), accounts (47 per cent), IT (45 per cent) and administration (45 per cent) sit at the top of the table of professions that get an average of six hours sleep or less. Sales (43 per cent), shop floor workers (42 per cent) and marketing (35 per cent) sit in the middle, while director/owners (33 per cent), plumber/electrician/builders (33 per cent), teachers (32 per cent) prop up the top ten. …
Top five professions that are kept awake thinking about work-related issues are HR (93 per cent), marketing (89 per cent), doctor/nurse/dentist (88 per cent), lawyer (87 per cent) and artist/designers (85 per cent).
In our agenda poll at CEB, we saw that burnout was the second-most common cause of attrition for HR business partners, which is understandable given both the sensitivity of the issues HRBPs handle and the constant balance they aim for between reactive and strategic work. I can imagine this holding true across most other HR roles as well. We also hear often from HR staff that they got into the HR profession for a very specific and deliberate reason—to work with people—so their personal dedication to the profession could make them prone to overwork, or more willing to put up with job-related stress or sleep deprivation.
At Employee Benefit News, Kathryn Mayer passes along some advice from Mary Jane Osmick, vice president and medical director for the medical services department at American Specialty Health, who warns that sleep is the missing piece of many workplace wellness programs:
“[Employers] need to identify lack of sleep with all the things you identify as risks: obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure. Put it into your assessment and find out if it’s driving part of the problem,” she said, explaining that a lack of sleep leads to weight gain. …
First, Osmick said, employers need to acknowledge the problem and the extent of it within their workforce. That can be done with surveys asking about employees’ sleeping habits and patterns. “You need to find out how much of a sleep need there is; you may find there’s a huge amount of sleep deprivation going on,” she said. “That way, you can acknowledge the problem and start to work through it.”
Next, employers must work on educational efforts and really get employees to recognize the problem. They can do this through a series of digital and consumer-evidence based materials; webinars; and group sessions. “The important thing is you have to put this information in front of employees so they understand how imperative it is,” Osmick said.
It seems a bit ironic that companies will load employees down with work that seems to require more working hours and then admonish employees to get more sleep. Does anyone really need help recognizing that too little sleep is bad for you? Sure, you can “teach” employees how to sleep, stop smoking, drink less, etc., but if you want to affect behavior change, you can’t just address the symptom and walk away. It all goes back to managers managing workloads.
The average employee spends about four hours a week getting back and forth from work. Survey data shows that for most employees, this is the most dreaded part of the work week. Cari Romm at Science of Us has a suggestion for how to make it a little more bearable: take a nap during your commute:
Step one, figure out how long your train ride takes from the moment you step on till the moment you exit. Step two, use that number to calculate what time you’ll be arriving, and set a phone alarm for a few minutes before then. Step three, stick some headphones in your ears and snooze away, unburdened by worry that you’ll miss your stop. (Note: Train riders only, for obvious reasons. Drivers, you’re still stuck with a fully conscious ride to work.)
The beauty of the commuting nap is that it takes one of the most hated ways to spend time (commuting) and replaces it with one of the most beloved (sleeping). It’s difficult to overstate just how much a long commute — especially one spent entirely awake — can negatively impact a person’s quality of life: People who suffer through it each day tend to have more stress, lower well-being, and even rockier marriages; commuting beat out house cleaning and even work itself in a survey of the most happiness-draining activities.
For those of us who commute by train or bus and can manage it, taking a nap does seem like a good idea. Estimates are that 50 to 75 million people in the US are sleep deprived, and this has real consequences: It hurts performance, lowers our emotional intelligence and makes us less effective leaders.
For the millions of us who drive to work, however, the chance to nap will continue to elude us until driverless cars come along to take us to work every day. In the meantime, as Romm also mentions, the Association for Psychological Science highlights a new study suggesting another way to get the most out of our commutes:
At the Wall Street Journal, Andrea Petersen rounds up evidence that sleep deprivation not only diminishes performance and cognitive ability, it messes with our emotional perceptions as well:
Researchers have found that people who are sleep-deprived have difficulty reading the facial expressions of other people, particularly when the expressions are more subtle. They are less able to discern, for example, whether a spouse is annoyed or just serene. People also are less emotionally expressive when they haven’t gotten enough sleep. They smile less, for example, even when they feel something is funny. Using neuroimaging, scientists are discovering certain patterns of brain activity that may be behind the emotional volatility that can be caused by lack of sleep. …
In one 2014 study published in Experimental Brain Research, 49 healthy young adults were divided into two groups. One spent a night without any sleep, while the other was able to sleep normally. The next day, the subjects were presented with images of faces that varied in the degree of emotional expression. The sleep-deprived subjects were much slower at identifying the emotions in all types of faces and were less able to accurately identify the sad faces.
Other studies have found that sleep-deprived people are less able to accurately identify angry and happy faces, too, particularly when the expressions are subtle. While many sleep deprivation studies have subjects go without an entire night of sleep, scientists say the results likely are applicable to the more real-world experience of chronically getting an insufficient amount of shut-eye.
In American work culture, long hours, despite the well-established downsides, are often worn as a badge of honor, particularly for young employees in “prestige” industries, though not only. And while tales of 70-hour workweeks can be presented as complaints, they often seem to include a bit of boasting as well: Look on my work ethic, ye mighty, and despair. Well, Washington Post business columnist Jena McGregor has had enough of people bragging about how late they work:
Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer … said in a recent Bloomberg BusinessWeek interview that she regularly pulled all nighters when she worked at Google and can judge a startup’s chances for success by whether people are working on the weekends. “Could you work 130 hours in a week?” Mayer said, referring to the value hard work played in Google’s success. “The answer is yes, if you’re strategic about when you sleep, when you shower, and how often you go to the bathroom.”
This has got to stop. No one, no matter what the upside may be, should have to be that strategic. The idea that being well-rested could be a black mark against a leader is preposterous. And even if a super early wake-up time works for some people — and they’re sensitive about sending out email before dawn — if you’re having to get up at 4 a.m. to avoid distractions in your day, there’s probably something wrong with how we’re working.
She lays the blame for this primarily on leaders who take too little time away from work and in so doing, send a signal to their employees that it’s not OK to disconnect: