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Lack of sleep sapping productivity

Hospitality was found to have the highest levels of sleep deprivation, and the transport and communication sector the lowest

Seventy per cent of employees would be more productive if they’d had more sleep, according to research from Sealy UK.

The research also found that one in 25 (4%) have admitted to falling asleep at work, and 11% have had an accident on work premises as a result of not getting enough sleep.

Sealy’s study was part of an awareness campaign based on its recent Worldwide Sleep Census of 5,000 people of working age. It found that lack of sleep is causing issues in workplaces on a daily basis; 65% regularly lose their temper or have been irritable to a colleague, 30% claim they suffer a lack of productivity, while 19% of employees say they’re often late or have time off as a result of sleep deprivation.

Hospitality was the sector with the highest levels of sleep deprivation at 86%. The transport and communication sector was the lowest, at 76%.

Kate Russell, managing director of Russell HR Consulting, is working with Sealy to produce a guide for managers to better support staff with sleep deprivation. She warned of the severity of the issue for UK employers.

“Tiredness poses a severe challenge to our ability to function well, yet it is frequently the root cause of decreased productivity, accidents and mistakes, which cost companies billions of pounds each year,” she said.

She added: “Businesses have a critical responsibility to take sleeplessness seriously. If you want to raise performance – both your own and your organisation’s – you need to pay attention to this important issue. Ensuring that staff are well-rested is quite simply a smart business strategy.”

Guy Meadows, co-founder of and clinical director at The Sleep School, warned of the serious effects of lack of sleep. “Sleep underpins our short-term performance and long-term health, so making it a priority in our lives is paramount,” he told HR magazine. “Short-term sleep deprivation affects our pre-frontal cortex, which controls our ability to be focused, attentive, problem solve and manage our emotions. It helps commit the day’s events to memory, so how well you have slept dictates how well you can recall memories.”

He added: “Sleep affects the ability to assess risk, so we are more likely to make riskier decisions after a poor night’s sleep. We also know that sleep deprivation works in a very similar way to alcohol in that you are unaware of how sleep deprived you actually are.”

Meadows said that on average seven to eight hours of sleep is essential per night to wake up feeling refreshed, regardless of gender. He advised that women can be more prone to interrupted sleep, however.

“Females do struggle to get more sleep because of hormones – progesterone and oestrogen – which flux over the course of life, they also have a greater tendency to worry and are more prone to anxiety. As you get older both men and women may find it hard to sleep.”

Vicki Culpin, professor of organisational behaviour at Hult International Business School, offered some top tips for employers to better support staff around sleep.

She advised that employers should: develop a travel policy and ensure it includes provision for sleep and recovery days; recommend breaks before major meetings where key strategic decisions are being made; be mindful of potential symptoms of sleep loss when employees present with physical, social, emotional or work issues; find and share examples of how successful employees at all levels of the organisation have addressed sleep; and treat each employee individually, as everyone responds to sleep loss differently.

"Put sleep on the agenda, talk about it at all levels within the organisation, and share the array of ways that sleep loss can affect people," she told HR magazine. "Communication is the key to breaking the ‘work hard play hard’ culture that helps perpetuate the myth that ‘sleeping is for wimps’ and that productivity and presenteeism are the same thing."