We spend up to a third of our lives on an activity that has a direct impact on our physical and mental health, and our ability to perform well at work.
Yet, only now are organisations waking up to the importance of sleep.Of course, we’ve all had nights where we’ve failed to get a decent night’s rest; be it because you’ve had a stressful day, it’s too hot or cold, or just because you’ve inadvertently binge-watched your entire favourite TV series in one go (Game of Thrones, anyone?).
Regardless of the reasons, if you or your employees fail to regularly get the recommended seven or eight hours rest every night, the consequences can be more damaging than you realise.
Poor concentration and decision-making, along with slower reactions and increased stress are just some of the more common warning signs that you’re not getting enough good quality sleep.
In the world of work, these can produce a perfect storm of strategic mistakes, lower productivity and increased accidents. Individually, the cost per worker has been estimated at $2,280, after a 2011 study of 7,000 employed health plan subscribers, but in truth, it’s now probably much more.
Looking at the bigger picture across some of the world’s largest national economies, the cost of poor sleep could be as much as $411 billion a year in the United States (2.62% of GDP), $138 billion in Japan and $60 billion in Germany.
The UK isn’t immune to the problem, either. In fact, it’s estimated that poor productivity due to lack of sleep costs the economy around £40.3 billion a year. Now that’s enough to give any business leader nightmares…
LOSING SLEEP OVER LOST SLEEP?
The cost of poor sleep indicates that this is an issue not confined to any one country. It appears to be a growing global problem.
For example, more than 50% of 30,000 employees surveyed at five U.S. corporations said they did not receive adequate sleep. Meanwhile in India, more than one in five people aged 18-64 worry more about tiredness than high blood pressure or diabetes, whilst over a third of UK adults say they do not get enough sleep.
The failure to properly sleep – a time when the body is actually very busy renewing and repairing itself – is clearly a worrying global phenomenon. But unfortunately, there’s no single reason as to why people fail to get a good night’s rest.
From worrying about keeping finances in check and mental health issues, to more physical triggers; such as poor diet, smoking, late night meals or late exposure to TV and mobile devices. The causes can come in any number and in virtually any combination.
However, there are some causes that can be traced specifically back to a person’s place of work and their working environment; including workplace stress, the physical impact of irregular shifts, or just the hassle of commuting to and from work every day.
Sleep can be affected by events both during and outside normal working hours. And although we all need regular rest, our sleep patterns vary from one individual to another.
So, how can organisations help their employees to get a great night’s sleep?
Light Up Your Workplace
Improving the working environment can have a genuinely positive effect on the health and wellbeing of employees. After all, if you’re spending upwards of 40 hours a week in your place of work, wouldn’t you want it to be both comfortable and inspiring?
Also, the amount of natural light we’re exposed to can have a real impact on both our moods, mental wellbeing and how we sleep. A 2013 study by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that workers who were more exposed to natural light slept better than those with harsh, artificial lighting.
If you’re not able to easily increase the amount of natural light, you could look to installing LED white or blue lights. These can be especially useful when fighting Seasonal Affective Disorder and are also a lot easier on the eyes, too.
Explore Flexible Working
Flexibility over working patterns, and opportunities to work from home, can also make a difference to how well you and your employees sleep.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do your employees need to be at their desks to do their work effectively? If not, why not let them choose where they work? Break-out areas, communal rooms or quiet areas might just be what your workforce needs to be at peak performance. You can then measure how it affects both their productivity and general health and wellbeing.
- Can they do their jobs remotely? If so, perhaps offer the chance to work from home if it doesn’t adversely affect the needs of the business.
- Is the standard 9-5 really necessary? You might find some of your employees are more productive later in the day or would prefer working condensed hours.
Flexible working can make a real difference to the lives of employees. Plus, if you already have an established IT or hardware infrastructure in place, it’s an exceedingly cost-effective method you can try to help improve your employee’s quality of life.
Ditch the Salty Snacks and sugary Drinks
OK, so we all like to indulge in those sweet and savoury treats which we know are probably bad for us, or perhaps even have the occasional ‘snackcident’. But aside from the impact these can have on your waistline, they can also lead to a bad night’s sleep.
Organisations can help their employees live healthier lifestyles by offering healthier alternatives to the usual crisps and chocolate in vending machines or communal areas. Fresh fruit is an obvious choice, but for those who love to graze, you could offer some nuts or seeds instead of crisps.
And it shouldn’t stop with just the snacks. You’ll no doubt have an office of coffee and tea drinkers; so, alongside the usual tea and coffees, perhaps offer decaf alternatives to help reduce their caffeine intake.
Support an Employee Wellbeing Strategy
Whilst the world of work will never be easy, a health and wellbeing programme that encourages fitness through gym memberships or regular physical activities, can help keep the health of a workforce in tip-top shape.
Health and wellbeing programmes have proven track records in reducing stress, helping people cope with financial struggles, and creating a positive company culture that understands mental health needs. Plus, they actively drive people to take preventive steps to improve their health.
This all helps reduce absenteeism, as well as its productivity-killing partner, presenteeism.
Sleep is certainly a precious commodity in today’s busy work environment, and anything that can help employees feel more rested when they arrive for work is good news – both for them and their employers.
So, the next time you’re feeling tired or unmotivated when at work, take a closer look at your working environment and ask yourself: is there anything more our business can be doing to help us all sleep a little bit better?
A GOOD NIGHT'S SLEEP IS JUST THE START...
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