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Updated 19th March 2021
Along with eating, hydration and keeping active, sleep is one of the integral pillars of wellbeing. A bad night’s sleep can result in memory problems, mood changes, memory problems, a weakened immunity system, increased risk of diabetes and heart disease, memory problems, weight gain and affected balance and co-ordination.
In fact, such is the effect of sleep deprivation, that it costs the UK economy £40 billion a year . Tired employees are less productive – or not at work at all – with research showing that those who don’t get a proper night’s sleep aren’t able to make accurate judgements, are often irritable, struggle with creative thinking and communication, and often late to work.
Sealy’s Worldwide Sleep Census in 2019 revealed that 70% of employees felt they could function better at work if they slept better, while 77% believed they didn’t get the rest time needed to feel healthy and happy . Most worryingly, 11% of workers reported a recent accident at work, due to feeling tired.
Despite these overwhelming statistics, sleep is often overlooked in benefit strategies, even those with a wellness focus. In response to this, business-led membership organisation Business in the Community (BITC) has partnered with Public Health England to create Sleep and Recovery, a toolkit that “provides practical information for all employers on how you can create an environment where employees understand the importance of sleep and recovery and are able to make healthier choices at work and at home”.
The toolkit, available for all businesses on BITC’s website, notes that there is plenty employers can do to support employees who may be feeling sleep-deprived, in association with a wider health and wellbeing strategy.
Here are just five ways to do so:
1. Conduct a sleep audit, or encourage employees to self-assess
It’s impossible to measure success without benchmarks. Encourage employees to complete a self-assessment of their sleeping habits, or design one yourself. Once you have an idea of the current situation, you can start to create bespoke policies that suit the needs of your employees. As part of the process, consult your employees about the support they would ideally like.
2. Workspace design
Natural light, temperature, ventilation and humidity are all important factors in maintaining a comfortable working environment – and can affect how employees rest at night. If in the office, make sure all these elements are all at the right level and if not, consider investing in tools like daylight simulator lamps and fans. Creating break-out spaces, where employees can take a moment away from their screens can also prove helpful. If your team works remotely, provide information on how they can best set up their WFH space to ensure their workspaces are as comfortable as possible.
If within capacity, encourage employees to take meetings outside, either with a walk, lunch or just a different environment – this can provide a good break and allow additional exposure to sunshine, which helps establish natural rhythms.
3. Establish and implement training programmes
If you have resources for healthy eating, exercise, mindfulness and general productivity, consider adding sleep management to the list. Arm your employees with knowledge about what causes sleeplessness, small actions they can take to encourage a good night’s sleep and what resources are available should they continue to struggle, like sleep diaries or apps. For example, if any employees have work computers, encourage them to install an app like f.lux , which makes the colour of the display adapt to the time of the day.
Furthermore, encourage and empower line managers to open a dialogue with employees about any struggles with sleep, ensuring problems are spotted early and can be addressed as soon as possible.
4. Encourage time off from emails and long hours
While being on call 24/7 and long hours are part and parcel with some industries, where possible, consider imposing blackout times on work emails, allowing employees to truly shut off. In the same vein, if your workplace has a culture of long hours, imposing restrictions on how long employees are at work could help encourage better sleep practices outside of the workplaces – for example, suggesting that employees stay out of the office from 8pm on Friday to 6am on Monday. If employees feel like they have too much work to do, perhaps it’s time to re-assess their workload.
5. Offer incentives for healthy behaviours
Sleep is intrinsically linked to other pillars of wellbeing, so any incentives that address these issues will also inadvertently assist in encouraging healthy sleep behaviours. Initiatives like a cycle-to-work scheme, flexitime, additional leave for staying active and mandatory annual leave can help in the long run.
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