Want to Improve Employee Well-Being? Start With a Good Night's Sleep

Employee Well-Being & Sleep

We wrote recently about employee wellness programs and how employers who try to take agency over their employees' health (policing the fridge; distributing health-tracking devices) can come off a little intrusive...or creepy.

But there's one area of health that Horizons Workforce Consulting's Lucy English says employers would do well to take aim at - that would be sleep.

Simply put, zzzz's are in short supply...and it's becoming a costly problem for employers.

New Data Shows How Lack of Sleep Impacts Employees

This is in no way advising the boss to get into employees' bedrooms (see "creepy," above).

But Horizons Workforce Consulting's sleep study of 4,000 people showed that fewer than half of employees (only 40%) get enough sleep every night. Poor sleepers in the study were three times as likely as good sleepers to feel burned out at work; and they were six times as likely to feel unable to meet regular job requirements.

In short, says Lucy, one of the authors of the study, "poor sleepers can be a serious drain on the effectiveness of an organization."

Employee Well-Being and Better Sleep: One Healthcare Organization's Story

Unlike intrusive wellness campaigns that try to forcefully shape unwilling employees into their best selves, sleep help would be a bonus. Employees want more sleep. They need it. They'd be grateful for it. And any steps employers can take to facilitate the pastoral landscapes of sweet dreams would be not only appreciated, but impactful.

The issue landed squarely on the radar of New Jersey's Atlantic Health after an employee well-being assessment made it clear that sleep was an issue. The organization had already tried to take aim at sleepless nights by posting "sleep healthy tips" on their intranet including tips for making your bedroom more sleep friendly, bedtime rituals, and when to see a sleep doctor.

But the company realized they needed a more practical approach. One of the great strains of working while raising a family is the big bite the competing responsibilities take out of snooze time; two jobs may fit together like pieces of a puzzle...but there's often no air between the pieces to grab a nap.

So they came up with the novel idea to use an existing work/life benefit - back-up care - to encourage down time. Simply put, the dependent-care strategy that was designed to get people to work when other care arrangements fell through could now also be used to provide care for children, adults, or elders while an employee caught up on sleep.

To Laura K. Barger, Ph.D., associate physiologist in the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Instructor in Medicine in the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, it was an inspired idea.

"This is a very important step in helping translate a growing abundance of sleep science into the everyday lives of individuals in this country," she said.

What's a Good Night's Sleep Worth? Employers Focused on Productivity, Take Note 

Such strategies are sure to catch on as both employees and employers realize the full benefits of a good night's sleep.

The Freakonomics radio show reported on a study comparing salaries in places with an hour less sunlight (and so an hour more sleep); those with more sleep averaged salaries that were more than 4% higher than those with less. Apparently, time (sleeping) is money.

And a New York Times story reported on how sleep is becoming a high-end-hotel cottage industry.

For Horizons Workforce Consulting researchers, it's just one more important bit of evidence that employers shouldn't be paying attention solely to performance at work, but to what's impacting those performances.

That includes how well your well-being supports are functioning, and whether seriously askew work/life balance scales are keeping people up at night - an important question since nearly a third of HWC respondents said that work-related worries or interruptions didn't just result in of lack of sleep they also caused it.

"Nobody's asking you to sneak into employees' bedrooms and turn out the light," says Lucy. "But you might look at whether your overall work culture is  keeping people from getting the downtime needed as a prerequisite to good sleep."

Download the Horizons Workforce Consulting study, The Impact of Sleep on Work Performance and Quality of Life, to learn more.

Written by: Lisa Oppenheimer

About the Author

Lisa Oppenheimer at Bright Horizons

As Director, Brand Storytelling at Bright Horizons, Lisa writes “from the trenches” about the real life challenges of people in today’s workplaces: from the tensions of being a working mother, to working with millennials in the digital age, and everything in between. With a career ranging from freelance to full-time, Lisa brings a diverse employment background to her perspective.