Sleepless in the UK: wake up to sleep problems in your workforce

Sleepless in the UK: wake up to sleep problems in your workforce

Posted 14 May, 2019 at 15:06

Author Mark Bradshaw on behalf of (ISW) Independent Shop Watch


Are your employees getting enough sleep? The answer is: probably not. According to a recent study, Britons get just over six hours sleep per night - as opposed to the recommended eight hours per night. In fact, nearly a third of people in the UK have sleep problems - which equates to as many as 16 million adults.

Alarmingly, over four times as many people who have insomnia reported relationship difficulties, compared with good sleepers. It doesn’t stop there. Sleeplessness also carries an economic cost - the UK loses 200,000 working days a year to absenteeism caused by lack of sleep. Not to mention the accidents, mistakes and impaired productivity that employees suffer when they do show up to work.

Sleepiness is also thought to be the cause of up to one in five accidents on major roads in the UK. After young men, shift workers are considered to be the category of drivers most at risk from accidents and, compared to day workers, night workers are more likely to be involved in accidents while driving home from work.

With statistics like these, employers who want a productive, competitive and collaborative workforce may have a problem.

When employees are tired at work, their mood, focus and motivation are negatively affected. In the long-term, lack of sleep can cause a risk of hypertension, heart disease and diabetes. There's also a close relationship between sleep and mental health. Living with a mental health problem can affect how well a person sleeps, and poor sleep can have a negative impact on mental health. It can become a vicious cycle too.

This paints a fairly negative picture, however all is not lost - you can help promote good sleep to your employees. So here are our top tips on how to help your employees with their sleep:

  1. Educate and inform
    Your employees may not know how (or how badly) their lack of sleep is affecting them, their health and their performance at work. So as an employer, you can provide information and advice to them about how getting enough sleep is important for their health and wellbeing. You can refer your employees to our online support about sleep in your internal communications such as newsletters and your intranet.
  2. Look out for signs
    Be vigilant and look out for telltale signs of sleep issues (and educate your line managers to do the same). These are signs such as a change in performance, more emotional behaviour, weight changes, high consumption of caffeine and under eye bags and dark circles. If you spot an employee with these issues, ask if they are OK.
  3. Encourage them to take responsibility for their wellbeing
    Another important point to communicate to employees is that they need to take responsibility for their wellness. Communicate that your organisation cares and wants them to be at their best, but that starts with them - and encourage them to inform their line manager if they are struggling with anything.  
  4. Take care of shift workers
    Studies have shown that over two-thirds of shift workers have issues with sleep. Shift workers can find it more difficult to have a good sleep pattern. Irregular hours, daytime sleeping and stressful work can make it harder to get the rest they need. We suggest educating and supporting your shift workers to ensure they’re getting the sleep they need to stay healthy, productive and safe. You can refer them to information specifically for shift workers.
  5. Be clear about your expectations
    If some managers or team managers regularly send emails out of hours, it may make others concerned that they need to respond straight away. Be clear with what your expectations are as an employer / manager and give reasonable, clear deadlines for work - also encouraging others to do the same. Try as much as possible to discourage emails after hours and at weekends.
  6. Be flexible
    People have varying sleep schedules and different times of the day that they perform at their best. If you can, consider letting employees set their own working hours so they can decide what works best for them - and work at their best. This could be letting employees come in an hour later after a bad night, or offering them the option of working from home on days they are really struggling. This could really improve an employee’s productivity.
  7. Reward achievements, not overtime
    Make sure you don’t only recognise employees who put in crazy hours of overtime at the expense of their social life. That could make others feel like giving up their life outside of work is the only way they will succeed - and that’s not healthy. It’s about rewarding the people that meet their objectives (and within normal working hours) as well as those who go the extra mile.
  8. Add a nap space  
    Of course this won’t be possible for every workplace, but it could be a particularly good idea if your workforce is made up of a lot of shift workers, for example. A 20-minute nap can make a person feel much more refreshed and productive. If it’s good enough for Uber and Google, you might wish to give a nap room some thought!

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