By Gilad Chen
The Washington Post
How did you sleep last night? Did you get your full seven-plus hours of restful shut-eye and spring out of bed this morning, ready to take on the day? Your employer hopes so.
For companies, employees not getting enough sleep creates conflict between productivity and worker well-being. Companies have demands and time pressures. But individuals also need to stay healthy and alert. Sleep plays a big part in how well individuals contribute to an organization’s goals.
According a recent report from the RAND Corporation, sleep deprivation costs U.S. firms 1.2 million employee work days and roughly $411 billion in revenue a year. That knocks an estimated 2.28 percent off the nation’s gross domestic product each year.
A groggy workforce is a challenge to organizations anywhere in the world, and it’s especially bad here in the United States. One root of this issue can be found in employment regulations: European Union countries, for instance, have regulations and cultural norms that generally support worker well-being more than the United States.
Some industries understand how critical well-rested employees are. Take the airline industry, for example, where worker fatigue can be a life-or-death issue and is therefore regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration. But barring federal mandates on Americans sleep quantities, it would behoove many industries and employers to encourage workers to get more sleep.
Lack of high-quality sleep has been linked to greater anxiety and depression, and to lower levels of employee productivity. But the opposite is also true — and varies by individual — so getting more sleep can enhance productivity at work and when you are more productive, you might sleep better.
There’s also a causal connection between sleep and employee and managerial behaviors. In studies, workers in sleep-deprived experimental groups behaved less ethically, and leaders in experimental groups with lower sleep quality were found to be less inspiring at work.
So how can you get better sleep to positively impact your job performance? Here are some tips:
Break the cycle. Stress at work can keep you up at night, lowering your productivity during the day and piling on more stress at work. Talk to your supervisor about your workload and stress levels at work and do what you can to focus on better sleep at home.
Focus on quality vs. quantity. Sleep quantity is easier to manage than sleep quality, but both are important. There’s been quite a bit of research on sleep quantity and quality. Overall, the research suggests that quality is more important than quantity. Good quality sleep translates to less anxiety and less depression.
Establish better sleep routines. You need a create a sleep ritual. Give yourself a “bedtime” and stick to it every day. Avoid caffeine late in the day and pay attention to what you eat and drink. Power down — research shows that TV and use of electronic devices interfere with sleep. Don’t check your work email right before you nod off — that can keep you awake even longer.
Grab shut-eye when you can. Another research stream shows that workers’ sleep patterns improve when companies empower them to decide how and when to get their work done. It’s part of the reason why some companies allow telework, flexible shifts and the occasional in-office nap. Your company may not go as far as resource-rich firms such as Google, Nike and Ben & Jerry that have really embraced that strategy, even equipping offices with futuristic-looking sleep pods. But that doesn’t mean you can’t talk to your manager about a more flexible schedule — so long as such schedule can be given and allows you to stay productive.
Try exercise. According to research, regular exercise can counter the negative effects of sleep deprivation. Take advantage if your company offers workplace fitness equipment, subsidized gym memberships, or other fitness programs.
Incentives for zzzzs? Health insurer Aetna pays a $300 yearly bonus to employees who volunteer to be company-monitored via a health-tracking device and meet the 7-hours-of-sleep threshold. Talk to your employer’s human resources department about instituting a program for encouraging employees to get more sleep. Many organizations have these types of programs for other types of health goals such as exercise and healthy eating. Still, sleep remains a largely missing component to human-resource wellness programs, according to a recent interview from CareerBuilder’s chief HR officer Rosemary Haefner. A survey by the job-search website found that more workers get too little sleep than enough sleep, with 6 percent averaging less than five hours per night.
Turn to technology. Though unplugging can be an important part of a healthy sleep routine, technology can help you track your sleep patterns and establish better routines. Widely used fitness tracker devices, apps and even your smart phone can help measure the amount of sleep you get and remind you when to hit the hay for the night. A recent study in the Journal of Applied Psychology tested the commercially available Sleepio app and determined it to be effective for promoting more healthy sleep regimen.
There’s no single solution. Effective regimens vary individually. Generally, there are different ways to balance this productivity/well-being trade-off. A key to this is to have a corporate culture of this that promotes some level of control for workers to facilitate a healthier balance between well-being and productivity. But starting tonight, you can make your own efforts to get better sleep — for your health and your career.
Gilad Chen is a professor of organizational behavior at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, and editor of Journal of Applied Psychology. He teaches courses on a variety of organizational behavior, human resource management and methodological topics. His research focuses on work motivation, adaptation, teams and leadership.