The realization that my company (like so many others today) suffered from sleep deprivation actually came from my own foggy experience. I was driving to work in the early morning. The day had barely begun, but I was already exhausted — and not just a little sleepy, either. I was absolutely dog-tired.
When I got to work and started on tasks, it became clear: Lack of sleep affected not only my own workflow, but also my ability to help others with theirs.
It got me thinking: If I’m allowing myself to endure a sleep-deprived workday, what standard am I setting for my team?
Why Leaders Should Prioritize Sleep
Research on the connection between sleep and productivity leaves no room for misinterpretation. According to the National Sleep Foundation’s 2018 “Sleep in America Poll,” nearly 90 percent of excellent sleepers report good productivity at work. Comparatively, among the worst sleepers, only 46 percent reported they were effective at work.
This isn’t just food for thought; it’s food for action. Issues related to poor sleep directly affect the way people perform at work. Even cutting just 30 minutes from your recommended seven hours can have significant consequences, including slower reactions, difficulty focusing, and reduced creativity.
The problem? Those lost 30 minutes add up and increase the risk of burnout. Gallup reports that 23 percent of respondents feel burned out at work “very often or always.” There’s no good news in that statistic, especially for the health of your business.
Sleep Better Knowing Your Team Is, Too
Leaders have a responsibility to their teams to serve as gatekeepers for good health, and that should start with sleep. Upfront, that means acknowledging workplace conditions that could affect sleep. Get to know your employees’ commutes. Keep track of overtime. Monitor the demands of your performance metrics. By developing an awareness of the problem, you’re halfway to solving it.
Here are five concrete ways to help your employees sleep better and gain back productivity:
- Get real about your own sleep health.As a high-level leader, change starts with you. Yes, it may be more difficult to cut down your own workload when it feels like everything that happens under your roof is your responsibility, but you can employ tricks and habits in your own routine to help cope.
One tactic I swear by is writing my nightly “worry email.” As I settle into bed for the night, my mind tends to spiral into work-related rabbit holes. Sleep quickly becomes a pipe dream. So I get up, spend 30 minutes typing these worries in an email — unfinished tasks, expected phone calls, future business ideas — and send it to myself. I always feel calmer and more prepared in the morning.
- Don’t let employees take work home.Many leaders would jump for joy if their employees wanted to get ahead on tomorrow’s workload, but creating a boundary between work and home is essential to good sleep health. Strengthen that boundary when you can.
At Sonus Benefits, we’ve established a rule that employees aren’t allowed to take work laptops home with them. Some team members have reservations about it because they’re driven people who want to work. However, as the work-home balance has improved, so has our collective well-being and productivity.
- Set up employees with dedicated health helpers.In your office, you may already have a buddy or assistant network in place that keeps employees engaged and productive. But people may find it difficult to open up about common health issues like lack of sleep. So dedicate time and specific personnelto address sleep health, and communicate to your team that such help is available. Encourage employees to check in regularly so you can gauge overall sleep wellness.
- Make sleep possible at work.Sometimes, staying up late or getting up early is inevitable. But that doesn’t mean you have to renounce sleep altogether. Make time for sleep in the office; remove the stigma and creating a calm, quiet place where employees can nap. You don’t have to invest in fancy sleep podslike those favored by Google and NASA. A curtained-off couch or a darkened room will work just fine. Simply having the opportunity to rest at work should help employees relax.
- Eliminate discourtesy.Did you know disrespect at work is a major contributor to insomnia? Experiencing “workplace incivility” during the day — like being interrupted or disparaged in front of colleagues — has been linked to employees struggling to fall asleep and waking up frequently during the night. As a leader, it’s your job to catch this trend before it becomes destructive. If you’ve noticed an atmosphere of brusque communication or open disrespect — even criticism that isn’t constructive — use your influence to turn those tendencies around.
When it came to sleep (or a lack thereof), I realized my organization struggled when I didn’t take care of myself. As a leader, be observant: Check in with yourself. What is your body telling you? It’s only from a place of self-awareness that you can help those around you.
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