Sam Holstein

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How Helping Employees Get Good Sleep Makes Your Business Better

One of the biggest health and productivity problems facing companies today isn’t the failing supply chain or the global pandemic. It’s been right under our noses for years, in our beeping phones and ever-lengthening work hours: Sleep deprivation.

When you don’t get enough restful sleep, it’s hard to make good decisions at work. Sleep-deprived employees aren’t as good at their jobs. If they’re executives, they make worse business decisions and steer their companies into muddy waters. Companies are losing money because they aren’t getting the most out of their employees. If they’re servicemen or medical professionals, they make more errors, and more people die as a result. The consequences of not getting enough sleep are real and scary — lack of focus, declining health, weight gain, and even death.

None of this should come as a surprise. So why do so many companies fail to prioritize employees’ sleep? Portugal has been in the news recently because their government passed a law to make it illegal to contact workers after hours, and France has a similar law. Why do national governments need to pass laws for this?

Companies should respect their employees’ right to have time off and relax because it’s a decent thing to do, but that isn’t always enough incentive under capitalism. So you should know that well-slept employees produce more value for their organizations as well.

Why Well-Slept Employees Add More Value

Poor employee sleep is related to several bad outcomes for teams and businesses. Employees who sleep poorly are less efficient and more accident-prone. According to the CDC Workplace Health Resource Center

“Fatigue and poor sleep also contribute to productivity losses (a measurement of employee efficiency when completing required tasks) costing employers $1,967 per employee per year and adding up to approximately 1.23 million lost working days annually.”

According to the Hult / EF Education First Corporate Education Center, corporate executives at every level report sleep loss negatively impacting their performance. Effects include…

According to a Deloitte article titled “You snooze, you win,” preliminary evidence even suggests individuals who are underslept are more prone to unethical behavior.

These results held even for important and dangerous professions. Nurses working 12.5-hour shifts report committing more than three times as many medical errors than those working 8.5-hour shifts. Surgeons, too, make more surgical mistakes and accidentally kill more patients when they work long shifts.

Sleep isn’t a time-wasting period of arbitrary unconsciousness we must endure. Sleep has important biological functions that restore and repair the body. The two neural sleep cycles, REM and NREM sleep, play an important part in memory formation and cognitive regeneration. When people are deprived of sleep, their brains are literally unable to store and process information and get eight hours every night. As automation eats up simple jobs, it becomes increasingly important for human laborers to take advantage of their full cognitive capacity.

A study by Dr. Hans Van Dongen in 2007 showed that employees who were allowed to take a 30-minute nap at lunch had 34% higher accuracy rates on memory tests after napping than those who did not take a break for this purpose and slept as usual in the evenings instead. This is because during NREM sleep — which occurs most often earlier in the night — our brains process information we gathered throughout the day and solidify memories, so they become retrievable later on if needed again. When people get enough good quality, sound sleep every night, these processes happen properly, and new knowledge is learned well into old age.

Danger! Your Employees Don’t Get Enough Sleep

Many employees say they aren’t getting enough sleep for one reason or another. According to Gallup’s State of the US Workplace report from 2013–2014, 46% of workers said they got just fours hours per night, and 28% said their homes were so hectic it was difficult to have time alone without distractions. These results show just how many people are struggling with being well-rested despite wanting otherwise.

Not only are people sleeping less in general, but the sleep they’re getting is also worse quality. The CDC reported that 35% of adults are not getting enough sleep every night.

Like many other societal problems, lack of sleep hits marginalized communities harder. When compared to whites, black adults are almost twice as likely to describe sleeping too little.

Why Companies Succeed When They Prioritize Sleep

The best companies realize this fact and prioritize employee sleep accordingly. Companies recognize these facts and invest in napping rooms, flexible schedules, telecommuting options, amenities like showers on-site or nearby for exercising during lunchtime instead of working through breaks, etc. It allows their teams to be better rested, which means increased productivity while at work.

Google knows that employees perform better when they have access to nap rooms, giving them great places for short naps throughout the day. Even Jeff Bezos says 8 hours of sleep is important when making business decisions.

Admittedly, nap pods and quiet spaces are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they encourage employees to get more sleep. On the other hand, they often encourage employees to work longer and longer hours in the workplace. People who work in offices with nap pods also report managers and executives often subtly or overtly judge employees who take advantage of these nap pods “too much.”

Other companies, like Nike, allow employees flexible hours based on how much sleep they’re getting each night. This is beneficial to the employees and benefits the company because it allows management to see which individuals are better suited for night shifts or early mornings. It also gives people who work nights enough time during the day to sleep well and be ready for their next shift.

How Neglecting Sleep Hurts Business

Workers are routinely asked to work well beyond their shifts in the modern trucking, shipping, and distribution industry. As the global supply chain grows ever larger and more complex, more human hands are required to keep the supply chain running.

But instead of hiring more human hands, many companies are opting to overtax the hands they already have. More than 44% of workers in production-focused industries, such as factory workers and plant operators, report getting seven hours of sleep or less per night.

Support staff, nurses, doctors, and even surgeons routinely work dangerously long shifts in the medical field. In fact, Dr. Lisa Rosen and her team found that medical professionals who worked shifts longer than 16 hours made 36% more errors in patient care — like giving the wrong pills or prescribing a drug when it wasn’t necessary.

5 Ways Your Company Can Prioritize Sleep

You don’t need to wait until your national government passes a law requiring you to respect your employee’s personal hours. You can start prioritizing sleep for your team members, department, or company right now.

1. Make time for sleep every night

Respecting your employee’s need for eight hours of sleep each night is an ethical imperative. If you restrict your employee’s ability to meet their basic biological needs, you are guilty of ethical abuse, even if what you’re doing is legal. And as we’ve discussed, promoting healthy sleep is an investment in your team’s overall productivity that will provide big returns. What can you do?

Understand that “catching up” on sleep is a myth, and you can no more catch up on sleep than you can “catch up” on exercise or immune health. Sleep needs to be prioritized for employees every night, not just the convenient nights for your business.

2. Make sure your team has time to sleep

Start by making sure that people have time set aside during the week dedicated to getting enough rest so that they feel refreshed when work starts on Monday morning. If possible, reduce late nights or early mornings before big deadlines with long hours of hard work ahead.

3. Make it easy for employees to exercise.

Make sure that your team members have the opportunity to exercise during their lunch breaks or at least get out of the office for some fresh air and sunshine. Exercise has been shown to improve sleep quality. Plus, a good workout is a great way to reduce stress and clear away mental cobwebs before coming back into work with a new burst of energy.

4. Offer flexible schedules where possible

Offer flexible schedules so that employees can work when they’re most alert and take time off to get enough sleep. If you have a lot of night workers, give them the option to stay at one location for extended periods, so they don’t have to commute home in the dark if their jobs are physically demanding or dangerous.

5. Create an office culture that respects sleep.

Discourage people from contacting co-workers after hours. One of the best jobs I’ve ever had was one where contacting co-workers after work hours or during their vacation, even to ask a quick question via Slack, was a major faux pa frowned on by management.

The best companies prioritize employee health because it’s just not smart business sense. Still, it also makes the difference between being successful or struggling and mediocre performance year after year.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, companies that prioritize employee sleep are more profitable and efficient. This is because well-rested employees have fewer accidents, make better decisions, work faster per hour on average, which means they can handle higher workloads without sacrificing quality or quantity of output.

Companies should start by creating a culture where good sleep habits come first, so people feel refreshed when it’s time to return to work again the next day. It takes an investment in your team but will be worth it for everyone involved long term — especially if you want to avoid unhappy workers who feel like their jobs aren’t valued.