Firms chant­ing a new mantra: Sleep more

As worker pro­duc­tiv­ity slips, busi­nesses are push­ing for shut-eye


Cor­po­rate Amer­ica has long tried to help its em­ploy­ees stop smok­ing, eat health­ier and get in bet­ter shape. More re­cently, com­pa­nies have been rolling out ways to help them man­age their fi­nances. And now, more firms are mak­ing it their job to help work­ers get bet­ter sleep.

A grow­ing aware­ness of the dan­gers of sleep de­pri­va­tion on health — and its ef­fect on in­sur­ance costs and worker pro­duc­tiv­ity — is prompt­ing com­pa­nies to try to im­prove their em­ploy­ees’ rest. Gold­man Sachs has brought in sleep ex­perts. John­son & John­son of­fers em­ploy­ees a dig­i­tal health-coach­ing pro­gram for bat­tling in­som­nia that in­volves an online sleep di­ary and re­lax­ation videos for mo­bile de­vices. Google hosts “sleep­o­sium” events.

Re­search out of Har­vard has shown that, for the av­er­age worker, in­som­nia re­sults in the loss of 11.3 days of pro­duc­tiv­ity each year, or the equiv­a­lent of $2,280. As a na­tion, that rep­re­sents a to­tal loss of $63.2 bil­lion.

Re­searchers also have found clear links be­tween poor sleep and re­duced qual­ity of life on the job. A study last year showed that peo­ple who mon­i­tored their smart­phones for busi­ness rea­sons af­ter 9 p.m. were more tired and less en­gaged the next day at work. Oth­ers stud­ies have un­earthed a link be­tween in­som­niac bosses and abu­sive be­hav­ior. And many have ex­am­ined the cor­re­la­tions be­tween lack of sleep and med­i­cal con­di­tions such as de­men­tia and di­a­betes.

As em­ploy­ers’ in­ter­est in the sleep habits of their of­fice work­ers in­creases, a num­ber of third­party providers are find­ing ways to cap­ture that mar­ket. The cor­po­rate well­ness provider Cerid­ian started in­clud­ing sleep coaches last year as part of its pack­age for clients. And the sleep di­ag­nos­tic and treat­ment com­pany Sleep­Med launched a na­tion­wide health and well­ness prod­uct for em­ploy­ers last year that screens work­ers for sleep dis­or­ders and gives them ac­cess to ther­a­pies.

Re­cently, the dig­i­tal medicine com­pany Big Health of­fi­cially launched a pro­gram called Sleepio at Work, which pro­vides em­ploy­ees a “sleep score” based on a ques­tion­naire, cre­ates a per­son­al­ized sleep pro­gram and of­fers in­som­nia ad­vice us­ing cog­ni­tive be­hav­ioral ther­apy tech­niques. It counts LinkedIn and the Michigan-based Henry Ford Health Sys­tem as clients, and it has helped lead em­ployee work­shops on sleep at Google.

James Maas, a for­mer Cor­nell Univer­sity psy­chol­o­gist who has de­liv­ered speeches on sleep at com­pa­nies for years, says he has re­cently be­gun one-on-one coun­sel­ing with ex­ec­u­tives about their sleep as fol­low-ups to his cor­po­rate pre­sen­ta­tions. “They think sleep is a lux­ury,” Maas said.

Not only are ex­ec­u­tives seek­ing ad­vice them­selves, but they also are in­creas­ingly the ones driv­ing any or­ga­ni­za­tion-wide com­mit­ments to the is­sue. Ac­cord­ing to sleep con­sul­tant Nancy Roth­stein, such ben­e­fits or pro­grams used to be led by plant man­agers and en­vi­ron­men­tal safety heads, whose main con­cern was with em­ploy­ees work­ing ab­nor­mal shifts. Now, more of the pro­grams are “go­ing through hu­man re­sources and the C-suite,” Roth­stein said. “Peo­ple are be­ing stretched to work un­rea­son­able hours, and it’s just not sus­tain­able. There has to be a par­a­digm shift.”

The mount­ing ten­dency to squeeze more work out of fewer em­ploy­ees is just one fac­tor lead­ing reg­u­lar em­ploy­ees to get less sleep. But there are many other well-known cul­prits: the glow­ing smart­phone and lap­top screens that we stare at just be­fore bed, the re­mote-work ar­range­ments that have in­creas­ingly bro­ken down the bound­aries be­tween the of­fice and home, and the 4 a.m. calls with col­leagues over­seas.

“At this point, sep­a­rat­ing our in­ter­nal bi­o­log­i­cal clocks from the ex­ter­nal world has no bound­ary. We all work 24/7 with ubiq­ui­tous con­nec­tiv­ity,” said Rus­sell Sanna, a for­mer ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Di­vi­sion of Sleep Medicine at Har­vard Med­i­cal School who is now writ­ing a book on sleep and the work­place. “The big tran­si­tion that’s taken place is peo­ple no longer de­cide when they work. It’s when do they not work.”

The fac­ulty di­rec­tor of Har­vard’s sleep medicine di­vi­sion, Charles Czeisler, re­cently told the NewYorker that over the past five decades, the av­er­age amount of sleep we get on work nights has de­creased by 11/ hours, from 81/

2 2 to a lit­tle less than seven.

The num­bers are less clear on how many com­pa­nies have pro­grams or ben­e­fits in place to help work­ers sleep, par­tic­u­larly among the tra­di­tional 9-to-5 pop­u­la­tion. The So­ci­ety for Hu­man Re­sources Man­age­ment asks about on-site nap rooms in its an­nual study of work­place ben­e­fits — some­thing only about 2 per­cent of re­spon­dents say they of­fer. A sur­vey by Cerid­ian of 700 North Amer­i­can HR lead­ers found that 5 per­cent have poli­cies for in­ter­na­tional trav­el­ers per­tain­ing to jet lag, and 9 per­cent have rules re­lated to check­ing elec­tronic de­vices af­ter hours. About 3 per­cent of­fer pro­grams for sleep dis­or­der screen­ing, it found.

For real change to hap­pen, says Jen­nifer Piliero, a se­nior prod­uct man­ager at Cerid­ian, “it re­ally has to be­come part of the cul­ture.” She has seen clients block out­bound e-mails over the week­end so that peo­ple can get ahead on work with­out cre­at­ing a rip­ple ef­fect on their col­leagues. “If you choose to work on a Satur­day, that’s fine, but you can’t send it to some­one else. It’s the cul­ture, it’s the lead­er­ship, it’s your man­ager. If they’re e-mail­ing late at night, you do, too.”

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