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How poor sleep affects employees (and how you can help)

There could be consequences for your business if your employees aren’t getting enough sleep.

One in three of us suffers from poor sleep, according to the NHS. Discover the issues lack of sleep could be causing in your workplace, and the proactive steps you can take to support your team.

Why is poor sleep a problem?

Most people have been eluded by sleep at one time or another. However, persistent difficulty sleeping can impact physical and mental health, causing issues such as:

  • Worsened immune system

  • Low mood

  • Irritability

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Struggling with everyday tasks

  • Increased risk of depression and anxiety, in severe cases

If you’re an employer, you should know the impact that poor sleep has in the workplace too.

What’s the impact of poor sleep in the workplace?

In 2020, The Sleep Council found that 77% of Britons say lack of sleep is interfering with their ability to function in the day. Poor sleep impacted on their fatigue, concentration, and mood – all things needed to perform well at work.

Sleep deprivation makes it harder for your employees to be productive, by making usually manageable tasks feel more difficult and take longer to complete.

In industries like construction, poor sleep could make it unsafe for employees to manage heavy machinery.

If employees drive to work, or as part of their job, it’s important to remember that sleep-related road accidents are more likely than others to result in a fatality or serious injury.

How work impacts employees’ sleep

The mental health charity Mind explains that stress is a huge factor in poor sleep, and, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, your employees could be more stressed than ever.

Benenden Health’s Mental Wellbeing in the Workplace Report found that 1 in 4 employees were stressed about the prospect of losing their job due to the pandemic. Workload, money, and office culture top the list of negative influences to mental wellbeing, all of which correlate to employees’ perception of work becoming “more stressful” in the last two years.

Find out how our business health and wellbeing services could support both your business and employees.

Shift workers or anyone working non-traditional hours may be uniquely impacted by sleep issues, in what has been described as Shift Work Sleep Disorder. These employees are at greater risk of lack of energy, slower reaction times, irritability and the other issues caused by lack of sleep. Depending on the industry, this can create dangerous working conditions.

How can you help employees sleep better?

If you feel employee sleep isn’t something to concern yourself with, you’re not alone. Research from Dreams and Loughborough University found that almost two thirds of employers feel sleep is the sole responsibility of the individual. However, this could be a real missed opportunity for your business. A third of employees surveyed would value initiatives that reduce the impact of working life on their sleep, while 33% said they would show more loyalty to an organisation that took action to support sleep health.

There is a fine line to walk here. On the one hand well-rested people make for better employees, but on the other you don’t want your efforts to be received as patronising or micromanaging. So, with that in mind we have come up with some ideas for you to help your employees. It’s worth noting that their appropriateness will depend on the culture of your workplace and you should tailor them to suit.  

1. Reduce workplace stress

Given that stress is one of the main causes of poor sleep, it makes sense that reducing it will improve sleep. How exactly you reduce stress will depend on your workplace, but our Mental Health in the Workplace Report found the top three causes of workplace stress were increased workload (up from 38.2% in 2017 to 43% in 2020), financial concerns (33%) and workplace culture (30%).

There are a number of things you can do to help reduce workplace stress, including:

  • Review resourcing and capacity, to ensure colleagues have a more manageable workload. You might identify things in your working culture that could be tweaked to free up time, e.g. reducing the length of meetings.

  • Launching a mental health policy.

  • Time management training.

  • Using time management software.

  • Offering pension advice and other financial training and education.

  • Implementing and training on a formal anti-bullying policy.

For further inspiration, read our article on how to ensure your mental health policy really works for your employees.

2. Encourage a healthy lifestyle

Eating a healthy nutrient-dense diet and getting regular exercise helps sleep and these are two areas where you can offer a substantial amount of help to employees. From offering healthier options in the work canteen and providing free fruit, to supplying discounted gym memberships or participating in the cycle to work scheme, there are plenty of ways you can encourage - and even reward - your employees for participating in a healthier lifestyle.

If you offer Benenden Health to your employees, they can access free, virtual fitness classes, and classes on diet and nutrition. They can also benefit from discounts on products like Fitbits, to make it easier to get moving.

3. Offer a sleep management programme

If you feel the need is severe enough in your workplace - you could determine this through a workforce wide questionnaire – you may like to consider a more all-encompassing approach like a sleep management programme.

These can take the form of workshops or interactive online courses helping employees to understand the benefits of better sleep and providing tips to help them achieve it. It might sound drastic, but when you consider sleep-deprived employees cost UK employers £40 billion a year, it could be just what your business needs.

4. Encourage your employees to switch off

It’s not uncommon for some employees to sacrifice sleep in order to work for longer. With more employees working from home, the line between work and home can become blurred.

Research shows that allowing for greater work/life balance and supporting employees’ needs for consistent sleep pays dividends by improving concentration and productivity during the workday.

Encourage your team to take breaks and put work away after a certain time, to give them the time they need to recharge. Your managers can role model this behaviour by not sending emails to colleagues outside of working hours.

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Benenden Health’s Mental Wellbeing Report

Understand why stigma is still preventing employees from telling their boss the truth about their mental wellbeing in the workplace

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5. Provide greater flexibility

A helpful first step could be providing your employees with greater flexibility. If your employees are struggling with sleep, consider allowing them to adjust their start and finish times. This could help them to break the cycle they’ve found themselves in.

Many of UK employees have experienced remote working for the first time due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As restrictions ease, consider how you can maintain a more flexible approach, for example by trialling hybrid working.

6. Provide external support

In our Mental Wellbeing Report, we found that 53% of employees would readily use a confidential mental wellbeing helpline if they had one available in the workplace. Yet only 24% of employers currently provide this.

Offering a helpline could provide employees the opportunity to talk to a qualified counsellor about a range of topics that could be affecting their sleep. For example, as part of Benenden Healthcare for Business, your employees will have access to a Mental Health Helpline 24/7, offering help with a range of topics including relationship worries, employment anxiety and bereavement.

Given the far-reaching effects of poor sleep, it’s in an employer’s best interests to help their workforce get a better night’s sleep.

Find out how Benenden Healthcare for Business could support your employees:

Got a question and want to know more? Call us FREE on 0800 414 8179.