Sleep First, Then Work

Fisher, Hogan, and Fields (2019) from the Deloitte consultancy group have just published some excellent pointers on how organizations can become sleep-friendly, or what they call a sleep-first-then-work culture.

As most workplaces and organizations these days have necessarily extended their operations globally, we all find ourselves increasingly working late nights or early mornings, thus cutting into sleep schedules. Fisher et al. summarize the deleterious effects of sleep loss on organizational bottom lines. After the long list of the negative health and mental consequences of sleep loss on employees, the authors observe:

“From an organizational perspective, a lack of sleep often has a direct impact on workplace performance. People’s ability to learn, concentrate, and retain information is greatly impacted by how well-rested they are. Insufficient sleep causes individuals to be more emotionally unstable or moody and has been tied to aggression and forgetfulness. Preliminary research also suggests that individuals who lack sufficient sleep are more prone to unethical behavior. These factors can yield negative consequences for organizational teamworkand individual performance.”

The authors also make an excellent point (now a well-established fact among sleep researchers) that REM sleep and dreams significantly promote creativity and innovative forms of thinking. In sum, not only does a lack of sleep negatively affect the productivity and mental health of workers, it inhibits creativity and out-of-the-box thinking.

Organizations need a well-rested workforce if they are to survive and thrive in the modern, globalized, competitive marketplace.

What can an organization do to become a sleep-first-then-work culture? The authors provide some pretty sensible first steps:

  • Discourage or disable after-hours emails, meetings, and work hours.
  • Provide educational programs on sleep.
  • Create programs that incentivize sleep: “Aetna pays its employees a little more than U.S. $1 for every night they get seven or more hours of sleep. As Aetna’s CEO Mark Bertolini stated, ‘Being present in the workplace and making better decisions has a lot to do with our business fundamentals.’ He explained, ‘You can’t be prepared if you’re half asleep.’ Since implementing the policy, Aetna has measured an uptick in worker productivity by 69 minutes per month”