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

According to The Great British Bedtime Report 2017 researched by The Sleep Council, around three-quarters (74%) of us sleep less than the minimum recommended seven hours a night and more than one in ten (12%) of us get less than five hours a night.

The problem with poor sleep

You might be wondering how exactly this affects you as an employer.  According to Matthew Walker, neuroscientist and author of Why We Sleep “Sleep is the Swiss army knife of health. When sleep is deficient, there is sickness and disease. And when sleep is abundant, there is vitality and health,". So unsurprisingly, when asked what areas of their life were most affected by sleep in the aforementioned report, nearly one in four (23%) said work performance and over half (53%) said energy levels (which would also likely affect their work).

The top reason cited for poor sleep was stress and worry (53%) and interestingly this has risen from 45% since the previous report in 2013, indicating stress levels have increased over the four years between reports. Another report found that three quarters (75%) of respondents said workplace stress was a key cause of their disturbed sleep. Indeed, our own Mental Health in the Workplace Report found over half of those surveyed (55.3%) said their job has become more stressful in the last five years and over one in six (61.3%) said achieving a good work-life balance is also more difficult now than five years ago.

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

Further research found that 60% of employees felt their lack of sleep impacted their work including; feeling less motivated (27%), being less productive (25%), poorer memory (19%), feeling irritable with co-workers (13%) and making them resent their job (8%).

Ultimately it seems like poor sleep can result in low levels of productivity at work, which can increase feelings of stress, further affecting sleep. This can quickly result in a vicious cycle that is hard to break.

But what can you do to help employees to sleep better?

There is a fine line to walk here; on the one hand well rested people make for better employees but on the other you do not 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.  

How you can help your employees

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 (38.2%), financial concerns (17.9%) and workplace bulling (9.5%). There are a number of things you can do to help reduce workplace stress, including:

  • 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 more detail on these tips, and others, read our article the top 3 causes of workplace mental health issues (and how to solve them).

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.

Our article - Help employees to fit exercise into their daily working lives - provides hints and tips you can implement in your workplace.

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. Create a nap room

According to the lead author of the previous study: “The average company is probably not aware of the issues [around sleep deprivation]. It should become a normal part of the office, for instance having a nap room."  In fact, there are plenty of businesses that have taken this up already; Google has 'nap pods' and Ben and Jerry's has had an office nap room for more than a decade. Whilst this might not be feasible in smaller office spaces, if you did have the space you could see some benefits.

5. Provide flexibility

If your workplace isn’t ready for a nap room quite yet, 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, or even work from home. This could help them to break the cycle they’ve found themselves in.

6. Provide external support

7 in 10 respondents to our Mental Health in the Workplace Report said they would use a confidential mental health helpline provided by their employer if they were experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition. 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’s Healthcare for business, your employees will have access to a Psychological Wellbeing 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 interests to help their workforce get a better night’s sleep. The above are just a few ideas that could help, but ultimately the best approach will depend on the culture of your businesses. Is this an area you’re planning to help employees with in the future? Let us know your thoughts and ideas on Twitter or LinkedIn using #sleepmanagement!

To discover how Benenden could support your business with our health and wellbeing services please call 0800 414 8179 or visit our Business Healthcare page.