Last night, as I sat at my computer in the wee hours of the morning brainstorming ideas to share over the coming months, I found myself contemplating the powerful effects of sleep. We’re all aware of the decreases in productivity and work quality that can happen as a result of sleep deprivation, particularly if it’s long-term, and the spike in energy that follows a night of uninterrupted sleep and a natural wake-up.
And yet, according to the National Sleep Council, a whopping 40% of routinely fall short of the recommended 6 to 9 hours per night.
So how important is sleep for employees in the workplace?
Recently, leadership experts have begun to analyse the effects of both short-term sleep deprivation and long-term sleep loss on a multitude of workplace factors.
This research has shown that even a short-term lack of sleep increases attentional difficulties, frequency and severity of errors, and absenteeism in employees.
When sleep loss becomes long-term, employees often show increases stress, disengagement, and turnover, as well as increasing absenteeism by aggravating chronic disorders and leaving employees susceptible to illness.
So, as vital as it is for employees to be well-rested to maintain their health and productivity, the most fascinating side effect of sleep loss uncovered in recent years is the impact on employee relationships.
A recent study showed that both short-term and long-term sleep loss are directly linked to increases in incivility and rudeness in the office. Simply put, tired employees tend to perceive even the most harmless comments as negative, and respond in turn.
Even though other research studies have shown that tired employees tend to quickly and emphatically apologise if their colleagues point out that they are being reactive and defensive, these hostile reactions are likely to change team dynamics over time.
To be frank, team members frequently resist working with red-eyed grouches, and this often manifests in poor team performance across the board. Over time, this tension has the potential to turn into active resentment of the exhausted employee, who may not even know why they are being blackballed.
When it comes to a sleep-deprived leader, these negative effects are often compounded even further. Employees are likely to fear retribution for ‘back-talking’ if they speak up when a higher ranking employee becomes snippy.
Over time, leaders with a negative attitude increase employee stress and decrease productivity, further derailing the work flow of the team.
When organisational leaders recognise the effects of sleep loss creeping into the workplace, it is important that they immediately take action to mitigate the negative effects.
Organisational leaders should offer sleep-deprived employees an opportunity to vent their frustrations, voice their concerns, and request the support they need to return to a rested state.
Tired employees that are struggling to complete their work tasks should be allowed to take sick leave and head home to rest if possible, or at the very least given an opportunity to take a short power nap in a quiet corner of the office to restore their energies.
While leaders are typically unable to impact the home life of employees, they are able to control the work factors that are strongly linked to employee exhaustion – the deadly combination of high demands, increased pressure, and inadequate resources.
Redistributing work tasks across the team to keep employees focused on the most important aspects of their job or providing updated equipment and processes can improve team productivity can go a long way to fixing sleep problems for employees, particularly if they report frequently needing to take work home to meet demands.
Head of Training and Development