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Simone Cheng: How conscious is your organisation when it comes to sleep?

Friday 15 March 2019

Simone Cheng, Acas Policy Adviser talks about how sleep deprivation can have an impact on workplace productivity.

Simone Cheng Simone Cheng

Acas Policy Adviser.

Simone Cheng is a Policy Advisor at Acas and is part of a team responsible for informing the future strategic direction of Acas and influencing the wider debate on the value of employment relations.

According to a survey by Wrike, 42% of UK workers regularly lose sleep because of workplace stress. But while employers and individuals are talking more about mental health at work, including stress awareness, the issue of sleep management still seems to rest solely as a personal responsibility.

Trouble concentrating, completing tasks and making decisions... trouble working, full stop. All of this can then lead to more stress, which worsens our sleep even further. It's a vicious cycle of sleeplessness, and many workers will simply plod on, ignoring that 'ow' moment as my colleague Abigail Hirshman so aptly talked about in her blog.

This is a business issue which requires our urgent attention. In fact, a report by RAND Europe - Why sleep matters - the economic costs of insufficient sleep-found that:

  • the effects of sleep deprivation - poorer health and lower productivity - are costing the UK up to £40 billion a year - approximately 2% of our GDP; and
  • workplace factors affecting our sleep include lack of choice, unrealistic demands, lack of peer support and irregular hours.

Certainly, given how much time we spend doing it, there is unlikely to be an aspect of work which could not impact our sleep. But one of the big culprits can be pinned down to our long-hours culture and the persistent myth that, the more time we spend working, the more productive we must be. The UK's productivity level seems to disagree.

Many workers are craving a work-life balance - a recent poll commissioned by Acas pdf icon Can work be both productive and good? [308kb] found this to be the number one priority for more than half of workers (53%) - but whether this is genuinely achievable remains to be seen. This 'always on' culture means that it's increasingly difficult for workers to switch off. The blue light filter on our phones might help us sleep better, but the action of picking up the phone in the first place still needs addressing.

As ever, leaders, managers and individuals all have a crucial role to play. To help get you started, here are a few considerations:

  • Do you send emails outside of working hours, and if so, do you expect a response? The Acas research paper pdf icon Strategies for Effectively Managing Email at Work [898kb] has found that despite the perception that dealing with email out-of-hours is useful for keeping on top of work, workers continue to feel overloaded and stressed by engaging with out-of-hours email activity.
  • Is presenteeism encouraged in your workplace? Do you set an example by taking time off when you are unwell? Presenteeism causes a number of problems, including lower productivity, reduced morale and worker exhaustion.
  • Do you take action to prevent working relationships breaking down?Conflict and toxic working environments can lead to emotional turmoil and a lack of sleep. Early intervention is key.
  • Do your colleagues worry about job security? One of the job quality measures recommended in the Carnegie UK Trust and RSA's report, financial stability understandably affects our mental wellbeing and such worries can keep us up at night.

The more we acknowledge the relationship between our personal and working lives, the better the outcomes for everyone.

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