While sleep is an inherently individual thing, the amount of sleep that people get can have a real, tangible impact on business. For any organisation that hasn’t already realised this, now is the time to start thinking about interventions. Not only for the health and contentment of its people, but also for its bottom line.
“Sleep is an investment in the energy you need to be effective tomorrow.”
— Tom Rath
For far too long, the business world has perpetuated the myth that presence equals productivity: the more hours someone is working, the more work they will produce. As such, many businesses (certain sectors are more culpable than others) glorify the high-powered executive who clocks off at midnight and is back online at 6am the next day. Not only is this outlook unrealistic; it’s also incredibly unhealthy for people.
Such a misunderstanding and misapplication of sleep’s relationship with productivity has only served to exacerbate the problem of sleep deprivation across society. In short, too many employers continue to undervalue sleep, and they’re inadvertently damaging their business by doing so.
Far from being advantageous, sleep deprivation actually reduces productivity — costing the economies of industrialised countries billions each year.
Thankfully, small changes to sleep duration can precipitate hugely beneficial changes to businesses. According to a RAND Corporation study, if individuals who sleep less than six hours started sleeping six to seven hours, for example, then the US economy would be worth $226.4 billion more.
Sleep, productivity and engagement are inherently interlinked, and businesses that want to remain competitive in the present difficult economic environment will need to facilitate that connection.
Giving sleep the attention it deserves
As the health risks of sleep deprivation become more public and our working environments increasingly become more people-focused, more organisations are starting to wake up to the far-reaching implications of sleep.
To attain better outcomes for people, businesses need to change their mindset towards the relationship between sleep and productivity. First up, they must first demonstrate that they acknowledge the importance of sleep.
Through education, appreciation and understanding, sleep can be reframed as an issue fundamentally aligned to business performance. Businesses should cultivate an environment in which sleep is no longer taboo — one in which people can comfortably approach their managers about sleep issues without fear of reprimand.
Both the business and its people need to buy into this, so it’s an act of collaboration that will need regularly revisiting. To ensure that everyone within a business is on the same page, the next step is to implement a sleep policy.
Every business has policies in place to encourage positive behaviour — from smoking bans to sexual harassment, bullying and bribery policies. If businesses are to take sleep seriously, they need to implement a robust sleep policy. But what exactly should it incorporate? Below are factors that business leaders and HR managers should consider when putting together a robust sleep policy.
Communications out of working hours should be limited because they increase pressure and encourage people to use electronic devices — which emit blue light — late into the night. Many companies already employ such policies. Daimler, for example, has a ‘holiday mode’ in its corporate email system. Volkswagen eliminated after-hours delivery of emails way back in 2012. A healthy business needs a healthy, rested workforce. A company’s comms should reflect this.
Blue-light emissions are constantly in the news. Yet most choose to ignore warnings. It’s recommended that company devices be pre-installed with a ‘night-mode’ setting in order to reduce exposure to blue light. Today, we also have access to wearable technology that monitors sleep-wake activity. Some companies incentivise people for maintaining consistent sleep routines with adequate sleep duration.
Work-free holidays should also be a part of sleep policy. Though not directly correlated, it’s important that people take their annual leave. In the US, half of all American workers don’t take their full holiday allowance. The increasing popularity of ‘unlimited’ holidays, particularly in the UK and US start-up scene, is leading people towards less annual leave being taken. Far from just being a benefit, annual leave is absolutely vital in ensuring that all people are fresh, rested and productive.
Active role models
For positive change to occur, role models must be visible within a business. It’s easy for a company to state on its company values page that it recognises the importance of sleep and wellbeing, but unless there are clear examples, such declarations are essentially meaningless platitudes.
Role models should be visible at the top of a business. If people see leaders who actively embody company values, whether they be sleep-related or not, they’re more likely to buy into cultural change.
When extolling the virtues of quality sleep, it’s important that senior staff do not contradict themselves by sending emails late at night and organising out-of-hour calls.
Training and support programs
70% of business leaders state that sleep management should be taught in organisations.
The importance of sleep should be known to every person in a business. If they are to get the right amount of sleep each night, they need to understand how it’s possible.
From recognising the effects of caffeine and alcohol to realising the negative effect of blue-light emissions, education is the key to healthy sleep. Sleep should form a key component of every corporate wellness program.
Annual screening for sleep disorders can also play a big part in harnessing a well-rested, productive workforce. In the US, law enforcement officers have the option to take a web-based screening survey to help them identify whether they are suffering from restless leg syndrome, narcolepsy or other sleeping disorders. Those at risk are then referred for treatment by accredited sleep specialists.
The same practice could easily be incorporated into a business.
Exposure to natural light aids sleeping. People who work close to windows, for example, enjoy forty-six minutes more sleep per night. In contrast, those who work in windowless environments report poorer sleep quality and increased sleep disturbances. Where possible, businesses should design and build workspaces which maximise exposure to natural light.
In order to encourage positive health practices, it’s worth promoting healthier, less harmful alternatives. Staff may initially be unhappy, but if a business truly promotes and lives its values promoting the benefits of healthy sleep, it’s much easier to win people round in the long run.
For business leaders, few things are as important as ensuring their people get enough rest. Sleep increases productivity. Without sleep, people are less engaged, less productive, and more likely to become apathetic towards their work. Not only does this affect interpersonal relationships at work, but it also affects a business’ bottom line. By implementing a robust sleep policy that gives people’s health and wellbeing the attention it needs, businesses only stand to win.