Why is sleep so important for employees?

Expert details how sleep affects job performance and satisfaction, and how employers can ensure workers get optimal levels of sleep

Why is sleep so important for employees?

Sleep is an important non-work factor that affects work, according to a 2023 report by Canadian and Korean researchers, using cross-sectional design of 322 call center employees working at a bank in South Korea.

When it comes to work, lack of sleep has a big impact on workers’ performance, says Maude Bouchard, director of research and development of HALEO Clinic, in talking with HRD Canada.

“With cognitive performance, lack of sleep affects the way our brain works during the day when we try to do what we have to do. So we have difficulty focusing, memorizing information can affect our language, we're looking for words a bit more,” she says.

It also affects workers’ mood, and it can be a safety risk “because people are more prone to make mistakes, if they are sleep deprived or are suffering from sleep disorders,” Bouchard says.

However, for employees who are unable to adequately meet their sleep needs, it increases the likelihood of burnout and also reduces job satisfaction, according to the study titled ‘The influence of sleep on job satisfaction: examining a serial mediation model of psychological capital and burnout.’

Bouchard supports this conclusion. 

“They might feel more stressed or are stressed by things that usually don't stress them. Lack of sleep is also linked to… less resilience and higher rates of burnout. So if you feel like that, while you are working, it will absolutely have an impact on how much you love [your work]. 

“In the scientific literature, we see that lack of sleep can also impact organizational commitment and engagement towards our job or our company.”

This is a cause of concern because only about a quarter of employees have a healthy relationship with their work – and it's negatively affecting organizations, according to a previous report from HP.

Statistics show us that about 50% of the population struggles to get a good night's sleep at one point or another, says Bouchard. Also, about 10% to 20% of people in Canada “suffer from chronic insomnia, which can be very severe,” she says.

Sleep deprivation and mental health

Workers who are unable to get the sleep they need can also suffer from a handful of mental health disorders, says Bouchard.

“It goes back to cognitive health and being able to be at our best when we do our job. Sleep deprivation, sleep disorders, they are linked with depression, with anxiety. This is a bi-directional relationship. 

“Someone might suffer from sleep disorders and develop depression or anxiety or burnout. But sometimes, it's the opposite. So you might have symptoms of depression, might suffer from anxiety, and then sleep disturbances are a symptom.” 

However, whether it’s one way or another, employers “would want to address it either way,” she says.

In a previous legal case, a worker who suffered from depression and anxiety attributed his mental health issues to a "poison work environment and management style" at his workplace from 2008 through 2019.

How to help sleep-deprived workers

But how can employers know if their workers are sleep-deprived?

“I would assume that that's a problem, even without asking the question,” Bouchard says, pointing to the statistics.

It’s also important for employers to ask their workers directly, whether they are reporting in the office or working remotely, she says.

“Sleep is a non-work factor. You would assume that at work, you shouldn't have to talk about sleep. But it's so intrinsically related to our health and performance and mood and wellbeing that, to me, this is kind of the first thing we can address… if we want to increase performance, and wellbeing at work and satisfaction.

“This is probably a problem for many of the employees. And we can ask and just ask questions like ‘How well do you sleep? and ‘Do you feel you have enough sleep?’”

To help ensure that workers are getting enough sleep, employers can do the following, according to Bouchard:

  1. Foster a work culture that prioritizes and recognizes the importance of sleep.
  2. Have leaders be open when it comes to talking about their sleep practices.
  3. Make sure leaders take care of their own sleep.

HR should encourage employees to sleep more, according to a previous report.


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