Posted: Mon 10th Jun 2019
David Price, CEO at Health Assured_, highlights why employers have a duty to encourage their staff to sleep - and sleep well.
This article is part of the Business Health Hub with Equipsme._
The Sleep Council recommends that adults aged 18-65 get between six and nine hours sleep a night - yet the average in the UK is between 5.7 and 6.8 hours. Sleep deprivation is a serious and growing problem impacting both productivity at work and the health outlook for individuals.
Research agency Rand estimates that lack of sleep costs the UK economy an estimated £40.2bn every year through loss of productivity. And the personal health impacts are also well documented including higher blood pressure, weaker immune systems, obesity, increased risks of heart disease, dementia and diabetes - not to mention the impact on mental health, concentration, mood and ability to focus.
Tiredness can also kill, especially if employees operate machinery. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) claims that driver fatigue is likely to be a contributory factor in up to 20% of road accidents, and up to one quarter of fatal and serious accidents. Seven passengers were killed and 61 injured, 19 seriously, when a south London Tramlink tram came off the rails in 2016 - as the driver had fallen asleep.
As an employer, it makes both moral and economic sense to ensure your employees, and yourself, have healthy sleep patterns, particularly as stress it the most common cause. The following five tips have been shown to really help make a difference.
Manage and monitor workloads
The feeling of being overworked stops people sleeping. You can't settle down to a restful night's sleep if you're worrying about the insurmountable pile of tasks waiting on your desk tomorrow.
Talk to your staff if you think they're taking on too much. Let them know that it's fine to delegate tasks and ask for help, especially if their health is suffering. Make sure they know cover is available so they can occasionally take a day off to catch up on rest, keep an eye on the tasks they're working on and step in if you think they are struggling.
Flexible working hours
They don't work for all employers, but if you're in the position where you can, then offering flexibility with working hours can mean so much more opportunity for sleep. The most obvious benefit would be to those who have to take care of the school run. Even just an hour's later start time will change a stressed, sleepless parent's life.
Make sure there is a formal process for requesting flexible working time, and organise a rota so you know that you'll always be fully staffed.
Rail commuters face an average daily journey of over two hours, with times for bus and car journeys increasing year on year. Imagine the difference a whole 120 minutes would make to people facing that sort of commute. Allowing employees to use that time to improve their sleeping habits will help improve their general wellbeing significantly.
If you introduce remote working, be sure to address any and all risks associated with it. Your employees should use a secure VPN, encrypt any sensitive communications, and sign up to tight security policies. The extra stresses these features may bring will be nothing compared to extra hours sleep your team members will receive.
It's all too easy to try to beat back sleepiness with sugary, caffeine-rich energy drinks. The problem with these is that they only really work in the short-term and employees will find themselves exhausted and their productivity will be compromised after a couple of hours.
If you provide nutritious, healthy foods in your workplace, for example fresh fruit, slow-release energy bars, nuts and seeds, fresh, cold water, you'll find that fewer people rely on energy drinks and coffee to get through the day.
Encourage good sleeping habits
Communication is key. Displaying promotional materials around the workplace such as posters, flyers and leaflets listing the benefits of a good sleep schedule can influence your employees. Emphasise the positives of good sleep; reducing health risks, making you more alert and creating a more pleasant environment for everyone.
Be proactive: write and send an internal newsletter, via email or your organisations intranet. Use it to promote sleep support measures, share articles on good sleep practice, and make sure your employees are aware of the things you're doing to make their lives that little bit less tired.
As the Dalai Lama says "happiness in simplicity can be achieved with a flexible mindset and nine hours sleep each night".
Equipsme is proud to offer Health Assured's Employee Assistance Programme as part of its Health and Wellbeing support plan for SMEs.
Get more tips for helping employees remain healthy and stress-free in the Business Health Hub