So, employees adjust and learn to function at high levels, even with less quality rest. But the effects of losing sleep to financial, familial and other worries can still be seen at work.
The Virgin Pulse Institute—the new research arm of Framingham, Mass.-based Virgin Pulse—recently surveyed 1,139 workers at three companies, in an effort to better understand sleep disturbances and offer insight on how to help employees sleep more soundly.
The study found nearly 30 percent of employees reporting they were “unhappy” or “very unhappy” with the quality or quantity of their sleep. More than 75 percent said they feel tired “many days of the week,” with 15 percent saying they doze off at work during the day at least once weekly.
What keeps employees tossing and turning at night, and, in turn, leaves them sluggish at their desks the next day? Environmental factors identified in the study as sleep disruptors included room temperature (85.2 percent), partners (71.9 percent), noise (68.6 percent), bright lights (52.8 percent), mattresses (40 percent) and young children (35.9 percent).
These findings only make sense, and it’s natural that poor sleep can lead to poor performance at work. But what can employers do about it? How can you help encourage employee behaviors that result in better-rested and, therefore, more alert and productive workers?
Jennifer Turgiss, vice president of health solutions at Virgin Pulse, director of the Virgin Pulse Institute and lead author of the study, offers a few suggestions.
“Employers have lots of opportunities to encourage employees to improve their sleep habits,” says Turgiss. “First, they can focus on creating awareness. Provide employees with tips and information about how to improve sleep. Host a brown-bag lunch with a sleep expert. Encourage employees to share tips on what works for them.”
She also urges HR professionals to review internal policies, to ensure the organization has procedures in place to help support improved sleeping habits among the workforce.
“For example,” says Turgiss, “a company could put in place a policy that makes it clear that managers don’t expect employees to respond to emails after certain hours or on weekends. This can help alleviate the worry and concerns that keep people up at night.”
Finally, she recommends that companies provide programs focused on improving sleep habits; an especially important offering at firms employing workers at risk of sleep deprivation—shift workers or frequent overtime workers, for instance.
Physical appearance and behavior are “great indicators” of an individual suffering from poor sleep, and HR and other leaders in the organization should also be asking themselves a variety of questions to help identify the signals of sleep-starved employees, says Turgiss.
Do [employees] look tired or sleepy? Do they fall asleep in meetings? Do they seem more irritable? Have they missed more days of work or has their output decreased significantly? Are they forgetful? Do they have trouble recalling details of projects? Have they made more mistakes than usual?”
Some workers may function better than others with little sleep, she says, ”but the telltale signs are usually there.”