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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