I’ll work now and rest when I’m dead.
Most workers grew up with this mantra, and with the idea that a productive employee is an employee who always puts work above personal time, who neglects sleep to do overtime, and who will always answer an email immediately, even when it comes at 5 am. Although things can get pretty unpredictable in business, and there may be times when you need to cut your sleep short by one or two hours, the corporate world is slowly steering away from the “no sleep” mentality. For the past five or so years, and culminating with the pandemic, businesses have been rediscovering the importance of self-care for employees, and have learned the hard way that neglecting employee wellbeing is not a healthy long-term solution.
Although we live in an always-on society, businesses should not ask their employees to neglect one of the most basic human needs, and the same applies to managers. No matter the industry, sleep deprivation should not be a part of your work culture. On the contrary, promoting sleep-positive role models and encouraging the entire team to have healthy sleeping habits can translate to a more positive and more efficient work environment.
Sleep-deprived employees aren’t just stressed. They’re also less productive.
Don’t talk to me until I’ve had my coffee. We’re all a bit groggy in the first hours of the morning, but if employees are constantly deprived of sleep, that can have a major impact on their health, wellbeing, and work performance. According to the National Sleep Foundation, lack of sleep causes a domino effect inside the body, and ultimately, all its negative effects will make themselves noticed at work:
- Sleep-deprived workers are more stressed, which makes them have a negative outlook towards work and have a hostile attitude towards co-workers
- Low-quality sleep affects work performance, reducing employees’ speed and ability to focus
- Sleep deprivation slows down physical reactions, which increases the risk of work accidents
- Repeated sleep loss weakens the immune system, which leads to more sick days
Although some people naturally sleep less, scientists say that we should get at least seven hours of sleep every night. However, in reality, the average professional sleeps for just six and a half hours.
And it’s not just workers. Managers often skip sleep because of work, and that causes them to be more irritable and amplifies their emotional reactions. Moreover, exhausted managers are less likely to find solutions to business challenges, think of innovative ideas, or pay attention to details. According to a 2017 study published in the Annals of Neurology, managers who do not sleep enough are more prone to making risky decisions, and that can have a major impact on the company’s future.
Big corporations are ditching the “sleep is for the lazy” mentality.
Corporations are partly responsible for propagating the “sleep is for the lazy” mentality, and now they’re the ones ditching it. From CEOs like Jeff Bezos, who say that they need at least eight hours of sleep every night to make good decisions and encourage their workers to do the same, to the employee nap cabins in Google, Huffington Post, and Nike headquarters, the tide is turning. Corporations are beginning to realise that balance is important, and are encouraging their employees to have healthy sleep schedules. Jason Fried, CEO of Basecamp, famously tweeted that a company that recruits based on the candidates’ ability to work long hours is fundamentally broken. “Quiet rooms” are becoming more and more common: these are rooms with comfortable beds, where employees can nap, meditate, or simply recharge. Companies such as Google are also working with sleep experts to help employees develop healthy sleeping habits, offer free access to sleep tracking apps, and host workshops to promote wellness and mindfulness.
How to encourage employees to have healthy sleeping habits
What big corporations such as Google are doing is definitely praiseworthy, but it’s beyond the reach of the average company. However, even if you don’t have the budget to set up dedicated nap pods in your offices, you can still incorporate sleep-positive measures in your organisation:
- Become an example yourself. Even if you don’t specifically ask your employees to prioritise work over sleep, they can be tempted to do that if that’s the example given to them. If they constantly hear managers talking about how they only slept for two hours to meet a deadline, they might believe that’s the standard, and that the same is expected from them. Never underestimate the power of example.
- Create sleep-friendly schedules. Are work schedules organised in such a way as to promote healthy sleeping habits or do they force employees to sleep less and in irregular patterns? If that’s the case, sit down with HR and heads of departments to see how you can adjust the schedule. For example, you may consider rotating shifts and offering better work-rest ratios. If possible, schedule intensive tasks for day shifts and provide wellness education for night shift workers.
- Respect your employees’ personal time. A healthy work-life balance has been linked to higher productivity, better ability to focus, and a positive outlook towards life. As busy as things may get, do not ask your managers or employees to neglect sleep and prioritise work tasks. Employees should not be expected to reply to emails outside of working hours, and you might even want to change your office policy to ban emails at the weekends. This way, workers will find it easier to unplug and are more likely to come back to work refreshed on Mondays.
If we look at examples of famous CEOs, most of them sleep for seven or eight hours per night: Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Tim Cook, Tobias Lutke just to name a few. And even those who used to pull all-nighters, such as Bill Gates, now realise that was a bad habit and now advise their employees to take care of their wellbeing. Building a successful company may take a lot of work, but that doesn’t mean your job should deprive you of basic human needs.