Sleep Deprivation and work

We have all seen it; the employee who slumps into their swivel chair, bags under their eyes as they gulp down a luke warm latte. Sleep deprivation is a huge problem in the UK with 1 in 5 people at any given time feeling fatigued and run down. A recent study conducted by the Rand Foundation with the University of Cambridge suggests that those who get less than 6 hours of sleep a night are far less productive than those who get 7 or 8 hours of sleep.

This situation of course puts the manager into a difficult position; how do you deal with a tired employee? It is difficult to handle given that sleep isn’t usually the problem but rather what is causing the lack of sleep and is it the managers place to know? Understandably the new father will be tired getting up to feed baby, the employee who is going through a divorce may be having sleepless nights, none the employees fault but still leaves productivity lacking. We have been looking at the top ways companies and managers deal with tired employees and have come up with a handy guide;

Spot the signs

Depending on the management style of an organisation it can be easy to miss that an employee’s fall in productivity is owing to them not getting enough sleep. Being able to spot that an employee is lacking in sleep will change your view of the negative effects of it, failing to do this may just leave you disappointed at the employee which will only add to their problems. Common signs include:

  • Mistakes the employee wouldn’t usually make such as spelling.
  • Forgetting things they usually remember such as meetings, appointments or details such as email addresses and phone numbers.
  • Increased caffeine intake, they constantly have a coffee on their desk or have more coffee breaks than they usually would.
  • The employee becomes noticeably clumsy.
  • Emotional or angry outbursts.
  • Increased sickness and/or sickness absence.
  • The employee keeps falling asleep! If you keep seeing the employee dozing off at their desk.

Of course we all have days when we would rather be in bed and the trick is to spot those who have a problem with sleep generally rather than those who just have the odd day of fatigue. Spotting the signs is the first step to understanding why an employee is tired which is what the problem is rather than the sleep deprivation itself.

Wellness and Health Oriented

A healthy employee is a productive one and it is within the employers interests to foster a culture of mindfulness at work. Educating employees on healthy practices, especially in relation to sleep, helps not only to prevent sickness absence but also builds a happier and more productive workforce. Having a health culture doesn’t mean a short seminar or sticking up some posters around the office, it means having a clear and structured way of encouraging healthy practices in the workplace. You can be as creative as you like in finding ways to help your staff be healthy from workplace sports teams to providing fresh fruit. Here are just some ways we have heard about;

Wellness charters – a visible set of wellness principles that employees and employers agree to, this could include a culture of openness in which employees agree to come to their managers when they feel their health is affecting their work or their work is affecting their health. Charters should always include how the employer will resolve, or attempt to address issues.

Active workplaces – as mentioned above a sports team is a great way of getting employees active whilst at the same time building on team work. Activity days are also a great way of getting employees out and pulling them out of their routines and comfort zones. Having a regular activity day on work time doing something that is a bit out of everyone’s box will help employees to discover the fun in being active.

Whatever it is you come with the most important thing to put across to your employees is that you genuinely care about their health and have made a commitment to make your workforce healthy. A healthy culture in the workplace is not something that can be achieved quickly, however the benefits of a workforce mindful of it’s health will ultimately benefit the bottom line.

Tighten up overtime

Whilst for many employers overtime is essential it is also a way for already tired employees to become exhausted. This problem is pertinent amount tired employees with money troubles, to fix the very problem keeping them awake at night take on extra hours which only makes them more tired. It is a good idea to take a look at your over-time policies to be on approval only and cap hours.

Ask

If you see a pattern of sleep deprivation then the quickest way to resolve the situation is to ask. It is important that asking is done in a caring and concerned way rather than disappointed and angry.   Again the most likely scenario is that the employee’s lack of sleep is owing to something in their personal life or their lifestyle, being angry at either won’t help to solve the problem. Asking the employee about sleep will help you to understand their attitude towards it and at the very least open a dialogue for them to talk about it and realise it is a problem.

Occupational Health

In order to help the employee you might suggest referring them to your Occupational Health provider who will provide you as the employer guidance on managing the issue, but you need to get the employee’s consent before you refer.

Employee Assistance

If you have an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) in place then you could think about mentioning it to the employee. Most EAP providers operate a confidential helpline and advice service to employees who might be having debt, emotional or any other worries.

Annual leave and time off

Make sure your employees take their contracted annual leave during the leave year. Also monitor their working hours and patterns to ensure they are taking enough time off to recharge. It could be as simple as needing a week away to take charge again and recharge those tired old batteries.