Sleep deprivation at work: the cost of sleep loss and what organisations can do
Victoria Dale is a highly accomplished diversity and inclusion consultant with extensive experience working across the public, private and voluntary sectors.
The lines between work and personal life have undoubtedly been blurred by the hyper connected world in which we live and work. The increase in the number of people working from home due to Covid-19 has only blurred these lines further. Common signs of poor mental health brought on by increased workloads, job pressure and the anxieties of the pandemic are preventing even more of us from switching off and getting a good night’s sleep.
The cost of sleep loss for UK employers before the pandemic was estimated to be over £40 billion per year. And as insomnia now affects 1 in 4 people (compared to the pre-pandemic figure of 1 in 6), with women, young people and those facing financial difficulties being impacted most from sleep loss, costs related to sleep deprivation at work are certainly not diminishing.
Inclusive organisations are waking up to the link between the lack of sleep and work performance by making sleep a wellbeing priority. Find out how sleep deprivation affects work performance and what organisations can do to encourage healthy sleeping habits for all staff.
Sleep deprivation and work – why is it an important issue?
Sleep loss affects a range of areas crucial to workplace success, including:
- Productivity: Sleep is a big determiner of your team’s energy, productivity and efficiency.
- Presenteeism: Not being able to fully function at work costs UK employers over £21 billion per year.
- Blunders: Sleep deprivation at work increases likelihood of mistake and error – potentially leading to detrimental consequences.
- Sickness: As lack of sleep is bad for our immune system, we are more likely to fall ill when sleep deprived. The UK lost 200,000 working days to absenteeism due to lack of sleep, whilst 97% of respondents from one study reported to have contracted a common cold or virus symptoms whilst sleep deprived.
- Motivation: Well over two-thirds of employees find it difficult to motivate themselves when lacking sleep. Now more than ever, as organisations cope with the effects of the pandemic, employees need to remain engaged and self-driven whilst many work remotely.
- Wellbeing and inclusive cultures: Sleep loss can have a huge impact on your diversity and inclusion progress as behaviours linked to sleep deprivation are proven to impact inclusive cultures.
When we speak about sleep deprivation at work, we’re not just talking about being a little sleepy on a Monday morning! These examples are some of the many reasons why organisations need to be encouraging positive sleep and wellbeing habits. Working from home has resulted in many of us attending more meetings and working on average 48 minutes longer per day. We’re also staring at the screen for more time throughout the day and are more inactive than when we were commuting into the office.
Lack of sleep and work performance – why does sleep affect our work?
Neuroscientists have explored the impact of sleep loss on the different parts of the brain for some time now. Whilst many areas of the brain function relatively well under little sleep, recent studies uncover why sleep loss takes such a big (and expensive) toll on the workplace. Sleep deprivation noticeably affects the part of our brain controlling many of the cognitive processes that we rely on in our learning, communication and work: known as the prefrontal cortex.
Leading sleep psychologists argue that “a leader’s ability to problem solve, deliver results and best support their teams will be impacted if they don’t get enough sleep”, having identified that desirable employee characteristics are disturbed by sleep loss. These impacted traits include:
- Learning and memory
- Organisational and planning skills
- Emotional reactions, attention and concentration
- Ability to recognise patterns, solve problems, make decisions and deliver results
- Communicating and reasoning. Almost half of senior leaders claimed in this study they are less able to hold strategic conversations when tired
In other words, the more your organisation encourages its leaders, managers and employees to switch off and sleep, the more likely it is to see the benefits through heightened wellbeing and performance.
Sleep deprivation at work – the impact on inclusive cultures
Most of us would agree that we’re less considerate and inclusive towards those around us when sleep deprived. Findings from research conducted by leading sleep psychologists and Hult International Business School only further support the business and wellbeing cases for encouraging your teams to switch off.
Out of the 1,000 employees from all managerial and professional levels surveyed, Hult’s Wake-up Call study found more behaviours impacting on inclusive cultures presented themselves in sleep deprived workers. Among these findings, 84% of respondents said that “poor sleep makes them more irritable”, suggesting sleep loss makes us more likely to snap and potentially make micro-aggressions. 56% of respondents said that sleep deprivation makes it harder for them to have difficult conversations with colleagues. And over half of respondents reported that a poor night’s sleep worsens their stress, anxiety and frustration, whilst increasing the likelihood of them to feel withdrawn or lack optimism.
When senior managers were surveyed, Hult discovered that almost half (46%) found it more difficult to be mindful of their impact on others whilst leading on little sleep. Fair to say then that sleep gets in the way of truly inclusive leadership, surely?
How to deal with sleep deprivation at work
Prioritising our physical and mental health, learning to switch off from our electronic devices and improving our quality of sleep benefits everyone in terms of reducing sickness absence and boosting productivity and employee wellbeing.
Encouragingly, employers and organisations are becoming more aware of the impact lack of sleep has on employee wellbeing, mental health and productivity, with some taking measures to address this.
As an employer, you can:
- Host wellbeing lunch and learn sessions to equip your team with healthy and productive work practices and run inclusive cultures training to demonstrate positive and inclusive workplace behaviours expected amongst your team
- Encourage regular check-ins and promote scheduling of regular breaks and exercise
- Introduce an organisation-wide ‘no work email’ policy after normal working hours – 83% of leaders say that their company does not educate them enough about the importance of switching off and sleeping
- Explore how a flexible working model will benefit your employees, managers and organisation
As individuals, we can:
- Adopt good habits for working from home to boost our productivity, energy and motivation
- Reduce the amount of time we spend checking social media by introducing a cut off time usually an hour before bed. Blue light from tablets/devices is shown to stimulate the brain and keep us awake for longer
- Remember the value of exercise and balanced diets, which boost how we feel throughout the day and how well we sleep at night. Studies show that sleep loss can affect our diet as it makes us more likely to grab a high carb snack or meal whilst exercising less
- Apply the 20-20-20 rule when sitting at your desk. For every 20 minutes spent looking at a screen, take a 20 second break to look at something 20 feet. This relaxes the eye muscles for 20 seconds and gives your brain a much-needed break from looking at the screen
]Switching off and sleeping are vital components of your team’s wellbeing and a measure of how inclusive your organisation’s culture is. Make sleep a priority and see the returns through boosted employee wellbeing, job satisfaction and work performance. Talk to us about adopting a workplace sleep policy or training your team about the importance of inclusive work practices.