Getting enough sleep is essential for every human, and lack of sleep affects almost everything we do, from reduced attention and memory to lower mood, impaired ability to use equipment, and even basic parts of us like reducing our ability to feel empathy.
But almost four in ten Australians admit they aren’t getting a good night’s rest. Late night scrolling and an increasing shift to an “always-on” workplace culture are among the things eroding sleep quantity and quality.
The growth of the NDIS also means more NFPs are managing shift workers, adding another group of workers to the mix who are vulnerable to sleep deprivation.
And while it may seem like your employees’ sleep habits are a private issue, lack of sleep can have a devastating impact on productivity, work quality, decision-making, morale and even whether your people show up to work at all.
Additionally, one of the leading reasons for poor sleep quality is work-related stress and anxiety, potentially creating a vicious cycle that must be a focus for those responsible for workplace wellbeing.
Educating managers about sleep and its benefits is crucial to ensuring they can manage teams to deliver maximum impact in your organisation – and for those who depend on you.
Why is sleep so important?
So what happens when a team isn’t getting enough sleep?
1. Poor morale
Lack of sleep can impact mood and leave people feeling stressed, angry, sad and mentally exhausted. This can create friction and wear on team morale. People suffering chronic or severe sleep deprivation are also five times more likely to develop depression.
2. Low productivity
Tired people get less done and procrastinate more. One study found that insomnia causes the equivalent of more than 11 days of lost productivity a year. Meaning sleep-deprived team members are effectively taking 55% more paid leave than the Australian average (20 days) – they’re just doing it at their desks.
3. Impaired performance
Sleep deprived employees are not only doing less work but the work they are doing is of lower quality. They may have poorer decision-making and problem-solving abilities, think less creatively and take bigger risks.
According to the British Medical Journal, even a single instance of going without sleep for 17-19 hours results in working like you’re drunk, with the brain acting the same way as a person with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.05%. That means your sleep-deprived employees may be as cognitively impaired as a person over the legal driving limit.
Absenteeism costs Australian workplaces $44 billion. While sleep deprived employees may be more likely to chuck a “sickie” in the short term to manage their fatigue; they are also more likely to suffer serious, long term health impacts such as obesity, type two diabetes, metabolic dysfunction and cardiovascular disease. This can lead to more significant, ongoing absenteeism.
What’s your role as a manager?
Ariana Huffington, one of the world’s most influential women and a corporate burnout expert, encourages leaders and managers to advocate for adequate rest as part of a healthy routine, saying, “Everything you do, you’ll do better with a good night’s sleep”.
So how can managers address the issue without overstepping the mark and invading the privacy of their teams?
Nobody is expecting managers to tuck their teams into bed at night, but there are many work- appropriate ways to advocate for better sleep and address some of the root causes of poor sleep. Here are five ways you can encourage a well-rested and high performing team:
1. Create a culture that encourages work/life balance
Some of the key reasons people give for a bad night’s sleep are work stress and a challenging work schedule. Some great ways to support to your team and encourage more balance are:
- Avoid after hours emailing – especially by managers. This places subtle pressure on more junior staff to watch their emails and be available to respond. Use scheduling tools to send emails during normal business hours.
- Set reasonable working hours and plan ahead to avoid late nights and overtime when possible. Discourage working after hours and make sure your team members aren’t overloaded and burning out.
- Encourage employees to take regular holidays and take the chance to rest and reset.
- Support flexible start and end times to the work day. This may be a simple option that allows your team to plan their personal time better – for example, to accommodate school pick-ups or avoid traffic.
- Have a consistent schedule, especially for casual workers, so people can maintain a routine.
2. Provide natural light
Good natural light helps the body maintain circadian rhythms, leading to more consistent and better quality sleep. It’s also one of the top perks employees in the NFP sector say they want in their job.
If your building has low access to natural light, encourage people to get outside with walk-and-talk meetings to get natural light and exercise at the same time.
You can also encourage people to walk or cycle to work for an extra bit of natural light during their day, by providing bicycle racks (and showers if possible).
3. Address root causes with a wellness program
NFP workplaces should consider a wellness budget – even a small one – to help address some of the root causes of poor quality sleep – such as smoking, lack of exercise and obesity – by promoting some basic wellness benefits at work. These could include:
- Workplace health programs, including stop smoking programs
- Access to screening for sleep disorders
- Subsidised gym memberships
- Providing a fruit basket or other healthy food options
- Offering non-caffeinated drinks, as well as the usual tea and coffee
- Organising social activities such as a running club or lunchtime walks or yoga
- Encouraging walk-and-talk meetings rather than always meting in a meeting room.
4. Provide education
Sharing information on healthy sleep habits in regular staff newsletters or on your intranet is free, easy and can make a real difference.
This fact sheet from the Sleep Health Foundation is a good place to start. Also, encourage managers to include sleep when discussing health and safety with their teams.
Finally, include sleep tracking in accident reporting – asking questions about hours of sleep and hours worked – not to punish staff but to identify correlations and find ways of addressing problems.
Arming your team with information will help them take action to get a better night’s sleep. It also shows that your organisation is serious about supporting your employees to achieve a healthy work/life balance. And both of these things will help you to create a happier, more productive workplace for everyone.