How many of your employees suffer with insomnia?

Sleep disorder
Chloe Hava


written on August 11, 2017

Sleep disorders are hurting the economy. HRM looks at why HR needs to pay heed to this common but easily overlooked issue.

Is lack of sleep costing your organisation? A new study conducted by Deloitte Access Economics shows that 39.8 per cent of Australians aren’t getting enough sleep. This is having a drastic effect on health and wellbeing, and consequently, productivity, with financial losses amounting to $17.9 billion or $2418 per person for 2016-2018. A previous 2012 Deloitte report estimated productivity losses from sleeplessness to be $3.1 billion, which indicates the current figures represent a marked increase.

Breakdown of effect on productivity

  • Absenteeism – people who experience sleep dysfunction take more time off work than those who sleep well. Sleep disorders also lead to long term complications and illnesses such as cardiovascular disease and depression, and even death.
  • Presenteeism – work output is reduced due to lack of sleep. This includes reduced function on the job, and leads to accidents and errors. Sleep deprived workers can get easily distracted and suffer a decrease in their communication skills. Memory function, judgement and mood can also be impaired.
  • Early retirement – this could be caused by sleep related injury or disease.

What does sleeplessness look like?

According to the Sleep Health Foundation, sleep disorders fit into several different categories:

  • Insomnias – difficulty falling or staying asleep.
  • Hypersomnias – feeling excessively sleepy despite receiving adequate rest. Narcolepsy falls under this group.
  • Sleep-related breathing disorders – breathing difficulty during sleep, the most common of which is obstructive sleep apnoea.
  • Rhythm sleep wake disorders – when a normal pattern of sleep is not followed, or sleep times are not aligned.
  • Parasomnias – experiencing unwanted events while asleep such as sleep walking/talking.
  • Sleep movement disorders – range of movements during sleep such as rapid eye movement, restless leg syndrome and teeth grinding.

Unfortunately, there are a broad range of contributors to sleep dysfunction, and it can be difficult to pin down a root-cause, or identify what necessarily came first.

What can employers do?

Although sleep dysfunction has much to do with personal health, behaviour and habits, employers can do their bit to help minimise the impact:

  • Light – research shows well lit offices, particularly those with natural light, can have a positive impact on employee’s sleep patterns.
  • Continued exposure to computer screen or devices can reduce melatonin levels. Avoiding emails out of work hours can minimise this exposure.
  • Encourage employees to use their annual leave and to refrain from taking their laptops on vacation. Working on holiday can lead to employees feeling less productive and rested upon return.
  • Consider wellness programs – a change in lifestyle through healthy eating and exercise can have a big impact on sleep function. Hosting healthy diet workshops and yoga/meditation during lunch breaks can help combat bad habits.
  • Rotating duties can help break monotony and increase engagement. This can also lead to a reduction in employee burnout. See our previously featured article about how to avoid burnout.
  • Encourage an exhausted employee to get help – pay attention to signs of fatigue such as irritability, lack of alertness and decreased motivation and suggest they consult medical advice.

If all else fails, take a leaf out of Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini’s book. The US based businessman, who strongly believes in the link between sleep and productivity, financially rewards his staff for getting a good night’s sleep. Aetna employees are encouraged to use Fitbit fitness trackers to monitor their sleep. “If they can prove they get 20 nights of sleep for seven hours or more in a row, we will give them $US25 ($33) a night, up to $US500 ($661) a year.”

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