Employers Told To Help Staff Sleep Better

A new toolkit means no more sleeping on the job for bosses failing to tackle sleep deprivation

Employers Told To Help Staff Sleep Better

by Aida Amoako |
Updated on

Let’s get geeky for one second, you’ll see why. There’s an episode of Doctor Who called ‘Sleep No More.’ It features a pod-like device called Morpheus which uses electrical impulses to condense a month’s worth of sleep into just a few minutes. I’m surprised Black Mirror didn’t do it first, but anyway, the episode was a not-so-subtle dig at 24/7 work economy that sees people wish thAT they needed less sleep so they can get more done.

The frantic pace at which we live our lives is indeed affecting the quantity and quality of sleep we get. This in turn is having an adverse effect on our health. In Doctor Who the consequence is death by sandman, monsters created, rather disgustingly, from the rheum in your eye. In reality, the consequences are just as bad. The shorter you sleep, the shorter your life could be. Lack of sleep increases the risk of high blood pressure and diabetes.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends between seven and nine hours sleep a night but estimates that two thirds of adults in industrialised countries do not achieve this. Adults who sleep fewer than 6 hours a night have a 13% higher mortality rate than adults who sleep at least 7 hours.

In light of this Business in the Community have drawn up a guide, a 52-page pdf, to help employers reduce the risk of sleep deprivation. Peter Simpson, CEO of Anglian Water, who sponsored the toolkit, suggested that the workplace is actually an ideal place to begin to address these issues because we spend so much time there.

Work-related causes of sleep deprivation include poorly designed shift work, stress, working across time zones, and toxic work relationships. However, the guide also recognises other factors such as poor living conditions, financial problems, becoming new parents, and bereavement. Employers actually have a legal responsibility to ‘support the health and wellbeing of their staff as part of their health and safety duties…’ The toolkit is supposed to help employers do so.

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Dr Justin Varney, national lead for adult health and wellbeing at Public Health England said of the toolkit that ‘It’s designed to support leaders, practitioners and line managers to create a workplace culture in which employers understand the need for sleep and recovery, as one strand of an integrated approach to maximising employee health and wellbeing.’

But how would this be implemented? The toolkit has provided several recommendations:

  • Making sure there is enough natural light

  • Introducing flexitime for workers who have to travel across different time zones

  • Encouraging staff to talk about sleep issues

  • Screen breaks

  • Encouraging employees to use all their annual leave

  • Create quiet spaces for relaxation

  • Train line managers to detect signs of sleep deprivation

  • Make drinking water readily available in the workplace

Other recommendations stress the legal obligations employers have to their staff. For example, the toolkit states that bosses have a legal duty to ‘manage risks from fatigue and sleep deprivation, irrespective of any of their workers’ willingness to work extra hours.’ This is in line with the Working Time Regulations 1998 which suggests that employers should set up better shift patterns and discourage excessive overtime.

The Health and Safety executive also recommends two full nights of sleep when an employee is switching between day and night shifts

Of course, coming from a business-minded point of view, tackling sleep deprivation in the workplace has as much to do with increasing productivity as it does improving the welfare of employees. Peter Simpson stated 'It is the right thing to do, but it also makes good business sense.'

Research and Development (RAND) Europe released a study that shows sleep deprivation costs the UK economy up to £37bn a year. 200,000 working days are also lost annually due to employees not getting enough sleep. By tackling lack of sleep in the workplace, employers not only minimise the risk of workplace injuries and low moral but they can claw back some of that lost revenue.

Tackling sleep deprivation in the workplace also has financial benefits for the employees too, which can actually help to combat the stress that comes with financial instability. LSE’s Economic Centre study form 2017 showed one hour less of sleep affected the number of hours worked and therefore the household income.

Perhaps the biggest benefit overall however may be a change to this culture of overwork and the glorification of insomnia. Louise Aston, Wellbeing Director at Business in the Community hit on something when she said ‘Gone are the days when it was in fashion to survive with five or six hours sleep.’

**Follow Aida on Twitter @**kidisalrightkidisalright

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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