We spend up to a third of our lives on an activity that has a direct impact on our physical and mental health, and our ability to perform well at work. Yet only now are companies waking up to the importance of sleep.
If employees fail to get their recommended seven or eight hours, it can lead to poor concentration and decision-making, along with slower reactions. In turn, these are root causes of strategic mistakes, lower productivity and increased accidents. Across national economies, the cost of poor sleep could be as much as $411 billion a year in the United States (2.62% of GDP), $138 billion in Japan and $60 billion in Germany. Individually, the cost per worker has been estimated at $2,280, after a 2011 study of 7,000 employed health plan subscribers.
Worrying about a lack of sleep
Figures like these not only point to the impact of poor sleep, but also to its prevalence. More than 50% of 30,000 employees surveyed at five U.S. corporations said they did not receive adequate sleep. In India, more than one in five people aged 18-64 worry more about tiredness than high blood pressure or diabetes, while over a third of UK adults say they do not get enough sleep. The failure to properly rest – a time when the body is actually very busy renewing and repairing itself – is clearly a global phenomenon.
However, the causes of the problem are as varied as its effects – from financial worries and mental health issues to more physical triggers such as poor diet, smoking, late meals, or late exposure to TV and computer screens. Some of the causes may be work-related, such as stress, the physical impact of irregular shifts, or the hassle of commuting. In short, sleep can be affected by events both during and outside working hours. And although we all need our nightly dose, our sleep patterns vary from one individual to another.
So how can companies help their employees to get better sleep – so that everyone benefits?
Better conditions, more flexibility
The options fall into a number of categories. A wellness program that encourages fitness through gym memberships, along with massage or yoga sessions, can be a real benefit. With the rise of wearable technology, which could be offered as part of a benefits and rewards scheme, it is now possible for people to monitor the quality and duration of their sleep. And by being better informed, people can make better lifestyle choices. At the same time, employers can also make a positive contribution. A 2013 study by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that workers who were more exposed to natural light slept better than those with harsh, artificial lighting. Where the amount of natural light cannot be increased, employers could install lighting that is easier on the eyes. Flexibility over working patterns, and opportunities to work from home, can also make a difference.
Help from well-being programs
Sodexo Benefits and Rewards Services is helping organizations to deal with these issues, notably through our well-being company, Inspirus. For an online room-booking company, Inspirus conducted a program to help employees manage their stress at work. The program offered a range of activities from physical exercise to yoga, meditation and healthy eating. When completed, 12% of the 300+ employees who took part said it had improved their ability to sleep. For a tire company, a program focused on healthy eating among more than 1,000 employees. By the end, 57% of those taking part said they had reduced their waist size and 48% reported an improvement in their mental health. As one participant commented: “My clothes are fitting better. I’m sleeping better. I just feel happier… overall I feel good!”
Sleep is certainly a precious commodity in today’s busy work environment, and anything that can help employees feel more rested when they arrive for work is good news – both for them and their employers. Taking a closer look at the workplace itself, and looking for ways to improve sleep through the company’s rewards strategy, will all pay dividends.