Opinion: A nation of corporate zombies

Sleep deprived employees undermine productivity and success - but it's an issue that is out of the hands of employers, right? Wrong, says Ahna de Vena.

Sleep deprived employees undermine productivity and success - but it's an issue that is out of the hands of employers, right? Wrong, writes Ahna de Vena.

Lack of sleep and poor quality sleep are negatively impacting Australian corporate success - but few organisations have woken up to the fact.
An Australian Sleep Health Foundation study found that lack of sleep costs Australia five billion dollars annually in lost productivity. While in a recent nation- wide census conducted by Sealy, 70% of workers admitted their professional productivity is hampered by exhaustion and stress from lack of sleep.

These findings are backed by a worldwide McKinsey study involving 81 organizations and 189,000 workers, which found a proven link between sleep, effective leadership and organizational health.

When employees don’t get seven to nine hours of quality sleep, cognitive function diminishes and they perform poorly. This negatively impacts work culture with short-tempered, unfocused, ineffective behaviour and seriously harms bottom-line results.

Part of the problem stems from unrelenting corporate cultures - where employees are caught in a mindset of more equals better, when, in fact quality of thought and subsequent action is what really counts.

Within the cultural tsunami of increasing demands, most employees are not getting enough quality sleep or rejuvenation in-between workdays to show up at work with all engines firing. They then push on regardless of exhaustion, which results in diminished productivity and consistently high stress levels.

Studies show high-stress is the most common trigger for lack of sleep, and lack of sleep contributes to excessive stress. It’s a vicious cycle that can seem impossible to break.

Whilst employees are ultimately in control of their own lives, companies can play a significant role creating a culture that supports and encourages wellbeing - helping ensure their workforce arrives every morning at their energetic and creative best.
The way out
Create a work culture that prioritizes wellbeing in the equation of success
Encourage and support quality performance over excessive hours. Simple and subtle shifts can achieve this. For instance, rather than applauding emails sent late at night, offer concern and encouragement to get ample, quality rest in- between work days. Encourage leaders to role model this new paradigm. Recognize individual needs of employees, and that some may require additional support to make this shift.

Provide practical training on stress reduction and sleep improvement
Inject your team with fresh energy and empower them to be at their best with practical skills that increase wellbeing and enhance productivity. Such training can be delivered in seminar format or via an online course. Motivate leaders to openly discuss the value and importance of utilizing these skills.

Encourage revitalising breaks
The all too common mid-afternoon slump results in poor quality work and spawns excess consumption of stimulants - which increases physical stress and interferes with sleep quality later that night. Studies show that a short rest of 10 - 20 minutes improves alertness and performance for up to two and a half hours. Short rests also support better quality sleep in the coming night by decreasing cumulative stress.

Innovative companies are installing resting pods that are having a positive impact on productivity. Over half the leaders in the McKinsey study were in favour of this strategy. The same result can be achieved by creating a simple quiet space that is device free with comfortable resting options.

Make quality downtime mandatory
Mark Twain once said holiday is the most beautiful word in the English language. Enforcing annual leave and creating a culture where emails are not sent to people on leave is important. Not sending unnecessary communiqués outside office hours or CCing for the sake of it, will break the cycle and allow rejuvenation to flourish.

About the author
Ahna de Vena provides organisations with training and strategies that reinvigorate teams to be at their best. She empowers people with practical, life- changing skills that reduce stress, improve sleep and enhance productivity. www.ahnadevena.com

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