Ok, so who’s to blame for these statistics recently reported by USA Today?
American workers are hungry for sleep. A 2005 survey by the National Sleep Foundation, a Washington D.C., nonprofit that focuses on sleep and public health, found that 26 percent of adults get a good night’s sleep only a few nights a month or less. Another 24 percent say they get a good night’s sleep only a few nights a week.
In other words, the sleep-deprived are cranky, in a workplace full of other cranky people. Their ability to concentrate, remember and make decisions decreases significantly and the estimated cost to U.S. businesses ranges from $30 billion to $100 billion a year.
Perhaps the most disturbing outcome is when a sleep deprived employee makes an error that causes accidents and death. Forty nine- people died on board Comair Flight 5191 as it ran out of runway for its dawn takeoff from the Lexington Blue Grass Airport on August 26th. While government investigators have not officially attributed the crash to any cause, they have said the air traffic controller on overnight duty then was working with only two hours of sleep.
Is this a problem with society that promotes a 24/7 never-ending culture of work and productivity? Is this the result or competition and pressure to perform in a global market? Is this the fault of the overextended individual not knowing how to say no? Or is this a lack of basic understanding that the body must sleep to rejuvenate?
When I go into companies to provide presentations of stress, I often ask participants “how many hours of sleep do you get?’ The average answer is less than 6 hours with individuals actively deciding to forego sleep to wash clothes, clean the house, fix household problems, or catch up on work.
“If I don’t, I will be so far behind, I will never catch up” And perhaps that is the scourge of society in 2006. Our lives are over scheduled and time to relax is scarce. It’s no wonder that the sales of prescription sleep medication is skyrocketing as people who are overstressed find it impossible to calm down enough to fall asleep.
Some workplaces are addressing the problem by educating employees about the physical and cognitive need for sleep, but that does little if management piles on unrealistic expectations that require 60 hour work-weeks. A company that was enforcing indefinite mandatory overtime requiring employees to put in 57 hours of work each week recently asked that I come in to conduct a two-hour presentation on managing stress. I told the manager to forget having me in and give the employees two hours to take a nap. No amount of training on stress will fix an unmanageable work schedule.
Another workplace, described in the USA Today article, tried a different approach as
At 10e20, a New York-based global search marketing and Web solutions company, President Chris Winfield makes sure employees are supplied with free Starbucks coffee and Red Bull energy drinks. “It’s coffee in the morning and Red Bull in the afternoon,” he says. “We have a lot of legs shaking, but the work gets done.” He says the combination is effective: “We don’t have many missed deadlines.”
This may help deadlines but it does little as workers go home and try to sleep at night pumped up on caffeine. Sleep deprivation not only results in an immediate decrease of productivity but can also advance long-term illness.
Management needs to see the bigger picture on this issue. We must creatively solve the need for 24 hour response in the global economy without burning out the workforce.
Here are some thoughts to consider in promoting wellbeing of the worker.
Staff to adequate levels to get the job done
Question double and extended shifts and mandatory overtime and look for alternative ways to handle demanding projects
Encourage the 8 hour day, lunch hours and breaks
Short term gains in productivity from working with inadequate staff seldom produces long term sustainable results.