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A sleep-deprived society

Combatting lack of sleep in the workplace

By Brian Kreissl

We just got a new puppy for my daughter. She is an absolutely adorable eight week-old Chocolate Labrador Retriever pup named Bella, and we couldn’t be happier with her (except maybe my other dog Bailey, who is a bit grumpy with her and more than a bit jealous).

The only problem is I am suffering from a lack of sleep — particularly after the first few nights when she wouldn’t sleep through the night. While she has started to settle into a routine now, the lack of sleep was brutal. In many ways, it was probably like having a newborn baby at home.

Even though she has slept the last few nights pretty much right through, I am still suffering from the ill effects of inadequate sleep. That makes sense because I remember hearing before that it takes up to three weeks to recover from a lost night’s sleep. While I still managed to get some sleep those nights, it wasn’t much.

Lack of sleep impacting productivity

Whether it’s because of a new puppy, a newborn baby, stress, a busy schedule, travel, working late, insomnia or staying up too late watching television or surfing the net, we are living in a sleep deprived society where lack of sleep is negatively impacting employee productivity and can even cause workplace accidents.

One study conducted by Harvard University and reported on in The Washington Post found the average worker loses 11 days of productivity per year due to insomnia. Another study conducted in the United Kingdom on behalf of insurer Vitality Health found that employees who had six hours of sleep or less were significantly less productive than those who had more sleep.

Clearly, employers have a vested interest in ensuring their employees get adequate sleep and come to work feeling refreshed and energized. While some people might argue employers have no right to intrude into their employees’ private lives and dictate to them, for example, how much sleep they should be getting, employers have a right to ask employees to be alert and ready for the workday.

This is especially important when it comes to safety concerns. An employee who is extremely fatigued doesn’t have her wits about her and is much more likely to be involved in a workplace accident. Similarly, driver fatigue has been shown to be just as dangerous as drinking and driving and can lead to accidents on the road — either on the way to work or if an employee drives in the course of his employment.

Employers part of the problem

However, employers themselves are often part of the problem. For one thing, having a highly stressful work environment can lead to insomnia, people taking work home and working extremely long hours.

Smartphones and work e-mail can also have a negative impact — particularly where there’s an expectation that employees monitor and respond to work e-mail after hours. Unreasonable expectations can also result in stress, worry, insomnia and the intrusion of work into employees’ personal lives.

Therefore, promoting better work-life balance and ending an organization’s long hours culture can help employees improve sleep habits. It’s also important to ensure managers have reasonable expectations placed on their employees and that employees are not expected to monitor their smartphones or reply to messages after hours other than in emergencies.

Other initiatives that can help include the introduction of employee wellness programs, providing information to employees on the importance of adequate sleep and rest, flexible work hours and the ability to work from home at least some of the time. Especially in highly safety-sensitive environments it can also be a good idea to encourage extremely sleep-deprived employees to take a sick day or personal day – ideally on a “no questions asked” basis.

While some organizations provide nap rooms or pods so their employees can have a short nap, a few employers found employees abused such programs after they were introduced. Let’s face it, nap rooms just aren’t going to fly in many organizations and will not fit in with some companies’ corporate cultures.

However, a quick cat nap of perhaps 10 or 15 minutes (possibly accompanied by a cup of coffee) can do wonders for helping combat fatigue and flagging productivity. It’s a pity more employers don’t recognize this.

© Copyright Canadian HR Reporter, Thomson Reuters Canada Limited. All rights reserved.

Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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