The 18th of March marked this year's World Sleep Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of healthy sleeping patterns. It's a celebration of sleep and a call to action on important issues related to sleep, such as how sleep affects job performance and safety. Experts suggest we should get between seven and nine hours of sleep a night, but the average U.K. employee only achieves around six hours. What can businesses and brands do to support and improve workforce wellbeing?
We know from data collected across the world that the quantity and quality of sleep have declined steadily over recent years. Sleep loss can make it more challenging to maintain focus, attention and vigilance in everyday life.
Lack of sleep can also have a profound impact at work, as feeling tired and trying to stay awake takes a lot of mental energy, making it more difficult to stay focused on tasks.
Sleep-deprived employees are also more likely to make errors, either through a lack of attention to detail or a mistake due to slower reaction times. Alertness, vigilance and concentration are diminished by long-term poor sleep, as are problem-solving, creativity and decision-making abilities. In some professions, increased reaction times may mean missing an important task, but in other professions -- such as doctors, first responders and truck drivers -- slow reaction times can be the difference between life and death.
What does your business do to manage the risks associated with employee fatigue? Those working in certain industries, such as logistics, will be familiar with the strict rules surrounding drivers' hours and the implications of getting things wrong. Meanwhile, employers in other sectors might not have such specific legislation. It's important businesses and leaders can reference policies or risk assessments that deal with fatigue. Fatigue risks need to be a factor and inform management decisions.
As with any workplace risk, businesses must consider what might happen and not just wait for issues to reveal themselves. With regard to fatigue, it's possible that some employees might feel reluctant to raise any concerns, and others may not be able to recognize the signs of fatigue.
Solving sleep deprivation at work is hugely important. Here is my advice to businesses on where to start:
Awareness and education
Virtually everyone in the world has had a bad night's sleep and felt the impact the following day. However, feeling tired is just the tip of the iceberg, and many people disregard, or are unaware of, the health issues associated with regular poor sleep.
As you'd expect, organizations are becoming increasingly aware of the impact of sleep deprivation on their financial performance, and more importantly their employees' health and wellbeing. Many businesses have already taken steps to support sleep and recovery in their workplace.
It all starts with providing the right support and information to educate your employees on the basics of getting a good night's sleep.
Everyone at work should be able to identify the signs of fatigue and know what to do about it. Many job-specific risks are covered during employee inductions and training, but few organizations include fatigue. This can be communicated simply, through leaflets, microlearning or short sessions introducing the concept of sleep and the impact on the workforce.
Understanding the physical effects
Understanding the possible health issues that arise from poor sleep helps with iprevention. There is strong evidence to indicate that chronic sleep loss may lead to serious health consequences, such as an increased likelihood of cardiovascular diseases, impaired immune function and early onset of Type II diabetes.
In addition, there is evidence to suggest that chronic sleep loss (such as long-term fatigue) is associated with certain mental health issues, such as schizophrenia and clinical depression.
These health issues are preventable, and employees at all levels should understand the impact of poor sleep.
See also: Construction Workers’ Mental Well-Being
Identify the risks
Every business should identify its key fatigue risks, seek solutions and allocate resources to the risks with the most significant impact.
Business leaders should be looking at who is at risk, then whether their work is physically or mentally demanding and how lack of sleep can affect the business, as well as the employee's engagement, happiness and performance at work.
It's important to consider factors such as a long commute, as this can affect an employee's sleep and performance. Any life events, such as having young children, can also reduce sleep, so businesses should see if they can provide additional support.
Track and monitor
Businesses need to monitor and track performance, and there is a wealth of information and platforms available to employers to identify potential fatigue issues.
Being alert to your staff's behavior patterns will help you identify if any of your team are having issues with sleep, as will listening for workers who are always complaining about being tired. For high-hazard roles, you should conduct regular cognitive testing.
Don't just brush the fatigue issue under the carpet. Employees might be reaching out and will benefit from your support.