A recent survey indicated that the American workplace loses billions of dollars in productivity to sleep deprivation and worker fatigue. Though the idea of encouraging employees to work less and sleep more may be anathema to CEOs and management everywhere, it may be time to wake up and smell the coffee about the losses being incurred as a result of exhaustion and burnout.
Napping and working to invigorate employees is not actually all that new. Albert Einstein is famous for his naps, and so was Ronald Reagan. Though some may choose to point to Thomas Edison or Margaret Thatcher and their famous twenty-hour days as the pinnacle of efficiency, but sleep experts say that there are few people who fall into the category of short sleepers who can thrive on limited sleep. The rest of the population needs between seven and nine hours of sleep per night, but in our demanding work environment challenged by family and social obligations, few are able to get what they need.
When companies have looked at the statistics regarding sleep needed for optimum creativity versus the amount of time that their employees are actually spending getting restorative sleep, they have been forced to admit that they have a growing problem Ceridian recently conducted a study that indicated that 53 percent of American companies have created work environments that are contributing to their employees’ sleep deficiencies. This has resulted in their employees being fatigued at work, and much less productive than their potential indicates.
In looking at the problem, sleep experts have offered up several recommendations for ways that companies can convince their employees to work less and sleep more in order to improve their work product and overall morale.
1. Restrict Available Working Hours
This may sound like a fantasy to workers across the country, but there are actually companies that have taken action to restrict their employees to a maximum number of working hours, going so far as limiting their access to the company’s email server. It’s been over three years since Volkwagen instituted such a policy, disallowing employees from accessing company emails until thirty minutes before their work shift begins and stopping access at thirty minutes after their work time ends.
2. Get Physical
There are few things more difficult to sit through when you’re sleep deprived than corporate meetings. Even for those who get enough sleep and come into their working day well rested and enthusiastic, sitting in a stuffy board room and listening to colleagues drone on can be enough to induce heavy eyelids. Some companies have taken a novel approach to this problem. They’ve taken a page from information published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, which introduced data showing that insomniacs who spent between 45 minutes and an hour walking each morning were able to get better nights of sleep each night. In response, they’ve begun holding their meetings outdoors in the fresh air, or have gone so far as to rent space at local indoor tracks and conducted meeting while walking the track. Though this approach is unorthodox, it certainly keeps people alert, and may even assist in the overall health and well being of staff members.
3. Loosen Up Your Schedules
The rule of thumb for the corporate environment has always been to hold business hours between nine and five, with the expectation that employees would arrive long before starting time and stay for hours afterwards. But today there is a new trend leaning towards providing more flexible work schedules in which employees can work from home, work hours that are a bit less stringent, and even offer them the opportunity to have unlimited paid vacation. Rather than finding themselves being taken advantage of by employees who are taking off far more time than they are considered to be entitled to, organizations have found that they have earned increased loyalty from staff members. Employees are able to work to the best of their own ability and then recognize their own impending levels of exhaustion and burnout, taking time off before their company suffers for their loss of energy. Allowing employees some say in their hours, as well as the flexibility to acknowledge their own exhaustion, ends up in tremendous long term rewards for both.
4. Pay Attention To Assigned Workloads
As a manager, there is nothing like the knowledge that you have employees who will step up to the plate and take on whatever tasks you dish out. But doing so without regard to exactly how much you’re delegating to your most relied upon employees can end up backfiring. When employees become overwhelmed they end up cutting back on their sleep, and this has a negative impact on their energy, their memory, their cognitive ability and their overall performance. Perhaps most importantly, it can have a critical impact on the way that they feel about the job itself. Delegating too many tasks to employees can backfire, causing employees to not only provide a lower level of work, but also will cause them to be resentful and end up leaving your organization in order to find a better way of life.
5. Provide Nap Space At the Office
This is another of those recommendations that can make traditionalists shudder, but more and more companies are providing their employees with a quiet, safe, place to which they can retreat and take much needed nap breaks. Corporations ranging from Google to Huffington post have begun to build nap rooms and wellness rooms for employees, while others are investing in high-tech nap chairs that are sound proof, dark and comfortable. By offering exhausted employees the option of removing themselves from their workspace and taking a nap, they offer benefits to both themselves and their workforce, and have been rewarded by increased productivity and a much energized environment.