Are your sleepless nights damaging the bottom line – and your team?

Sleep matters. Fact. There are many articles, backed up by tons of solid research, explaining the detrimental effects of short or poor sleep on physical and mental health, emotional wellbeing, and performance.

When it comes to the workplace, a lot has also been written about the impact of poor sleep on employees’ mental health as well as their performance and productivity. And it is affecting the corporate bottom line too.

A 2016 report from Rand Europe estimated the cost of insufficient sleep to the UK economy to be £40 billion per year.

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Considering the effect of the pandemic on sleep (many reporting poor sleep) and the current cost of living crisis people are worrying about, it is unlikely that things have improved when it comes to sleep.

At the same time, HR leaders have responded and are actively exploring initiatives to help employees look after their sleep.

However, what is much less talked about is the sleep of leaders themselves. They, like any other human being, need quality sleep too.

Just like their team, leaders work long hours and are under pressure to deliver. Stress, from work or private life, is the most common sleep disrupter.

But there is an additional stressor leaders face: emotional labour.

This is the work whereby one regulates their emotions to keep a balanced outward expression to match what’s expected of them.

A leader’s primary role is to lead and inspire their team particularly when faced with challenges.

Sometimes leaders will feel they have to put on their game face and suppress their emotions to be successful in their interactions with their team.

This so-called 'surface acting' is not only energetically demanding during the day, but it also reduces the quality of sleep at night.

This in turn can have negative implications for how a leader performs the next day, e.g. their decision-making and concentration, which can directly affect organisational outcomes.

There are also indirect ways how an under-slept leader can harm corporate success.

Research has shown that leadership behaviour becomes more hostile and abusive the day following a poor night.

This type of behaviour is likely to adversely impact on employee work engagement and productivity both of which will decrease.

What’s more, if the abusive behaviour continues or repeats well-slept employees might start to experience poor sleep themselves as workplace incivility has been shown to trigger sleep problems with consequences for their own performance.

It is also a leader’s ability to motivate their team that gets knocked following a poor night.

Sleep deprived leaders are less charismatic and struggle to motivate their team. This matters particularly when the business is facing uncertain and difficult times.

In addition to being a source of inspiration for employees, a leader is also a role model.

They model ways of working thereby setting out what is acceptable and what is not. This has wide-ranging consequences.

How, when and where we work also impacts our recovery time since the two are inversely related. For example, long work hours leave less time for private things including sleep.

Working from home blurs the boundaries between work and private live making it difficult to unwind and job matters continue to play on our mind long into the evening and often hindering sleep.

Therefore, a leader’s working behaviour inadvertently signals the importance they assign to recovery. This makes them a role model for recovery too.

Because of their double function as a role model for work and recovery leaders are uniquely positioned to positively influence employees’ sleep (behaviours).

‘Sleep leadership’ whereby a leader acts in a sleep-friendly and considerate way are a newly coined term to describe this concept.

Sleep-considerate behaviours include talking to employees about sleep’s importance for health and performance as well as setting guidelines around ways of working so that recovery time is protected.

This will improve both the sleep of employees and leaders. What’s not to like about that?

Kat Lederle is a sleep scientist and coach at Somnia