The link between sleep, job performance and safety
The 18th of March marks this year's World Sleep Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of healthy sleeping patterns. It’s a celebration of sleep and a call to action on important issues related to sleep, such as how sleep affects job performance and safety.
Experts suggest we should get between seven to nine hours of sleep a night, however, the average UK employee only achieves around six hours. So, what can businesses and brands do to support and improve workforce wellbeing?
This article offers advice to businesses on how to recognise sleep deprivation in employees, and then what businesses can do to safeguard staff and improve wellbeing.
We know from data collected across the world, that the quantity and quality of sleep have declined steadily over recent years. Sleep loss can make it more challenging to maintain focus, attention, and vigilance in everyday life.
Lack of sleep can also have a profound impact at work, as feeling tired and trying to stay awake takes a lot of mental energy, making it more difficult to keep concentration and stay focused on tasks.
Sleep-deprived employees are also more likely to make errors, either through a lack of attention to detail or a mistake due to slower reaction times. Alertness, vigilance and concentration are negatively affected by long-term poor sleep, as are problem-solving, creativity and decision-making abilities. In some professions, increased reaction times may mean missing an important task, but in other professions- such as doctors, first responders, and truck drivers- slow reaction times can be the difference between life and death.
What does your business do to manage the risks associated with employee fatigue? Those working in certain industries, such as logistics, will be familiar with the strict rules surrounding drivers’ hours and the implications of getting it wrong. Meanwhile, employers in other sectors might not have such specific legislation. It’s important businesses and leaders can reference policies or risk assessments that deal with fatigue. Fatigue risks need to be a factor and inform management decisions.
As with any workplace risk, businesses must actively consider what might happen and not just wait for issues to reveal themselves. In regards to fatigue, it’s possible that some employees might feel reluctant to raise any concerns and others may not be able to recognise the signs of fatigue themselves.
Solving sleep deprivation at work is a hugely important task. Here is my advice to businesses on where to start when tackling this issue.
Awareness, educate and inform
Virtually everyone in the world has had a bad night's sleep and felt the impact of this the following day. However, feeling tired is just the tip of the iceberg and many people disregard, or are unaware, of the health issues associated with regular poor sleep.
As you’d expect, organisations are becoming increasingly aware of the impact of sleep deprivation on their financial performance, and more importantly their employees' health and wellbeing. Many businesses have already taken practical steps to support sleep and recovery in their workplace.
It all starts with providing the right support and information to educate your employees on the basics of getting a good night’s sleep.
Everyone at work should be able to identify the signs of fatigue and know what to do about it. Many job-specific risks are covered during employee inductions and training, however, few organisations include fatigue. This can be communicated simply, through leaflets, microlearning or short sessions introducing the concept of sleep and the impact on the workforce.
Understanding the physical effects
Understanding the possible health issues that arise from poor sleep helps with identification, but also prevention. There is strong evidence to indicate that chronic sleep loss may lead to serious health consequences, such as an increased likelihood of cardiovascular diseases, impaired immune function and early onset of Type II diabetes.
In addition, there is also evidence to suggest that chronic sleep loss (such as long-term fatigue) is associated with certain mental health issues, such as schizophrenia and clinical depression.
These health issues are preventable, and employees at all levels should understand the impact of poor sleep, and ensure they understand the relationship between sleep and how it affects their bodies. This will ensure there is a heightened focus on sleep and all employers are aware.
Identify the risks
It may seem logical and straightforward, but understanding the risk that lack of sleep poses to businesses is often overlooked. Every business should identify its key fatigue risks. This is relevant for all sectors, and as with all risk and safety management, the focus should be placed on the most significant impact and risks, with resources and solutions appropriately progressed.
Business leaders should be looking at who is at risk, then whether their work is physically or mentally demanding, and how lack of sleep can impact the business, but also the employee's engagement, happiness and performance at work.
As well as the scale of work required, and ‘on the job’ risks, it’s also important to consider factors such as a long commute, as this can impact an employee’s sleep and performance as well. Any life events, such as having young children, can also adversely affect the amount of sleep employees are having each night. This is super important to note, and see if as an employer there is any additional support needed to provide the employee with the best possible working environment.
Where relevant, fatigue risks should be captured in risk assessments, along with the appropriate control measures.
Track and monitor
Businesses need to monitor and track performance and there is a wealth of information available to employers as a way to identify potential fatigue issues. Leaders need processes or solutions, such as online specialist platforms to track and monitor such risks.
Being alert to your staff’s behaviour patterns will help you identify if any of your team are having issues with sleep. It’s vital to be aware of any changes in behaviour or listening out for workers who are always complaining about being tired. For high hazard roles, it is recommended to conduct regular cognitive testing. Don’t just brush it under the carpet, they might be reaching out and will benefit from your support.