Work-related sleep issues are creating a nation of unproductive “insombies” according to new research commissioned by bed retailer Dreams, which found three in four employees suffer from persistently poor sleep, causing weaker performance, lower output and more frequent sick days at a time when Britain’s productivity remains in the doldrums.
The report from Loughborough University, entitled Ending Sleep Stigma in the Workplace, reveals the scale of Britain’s sleep deficit and its impact on British business. In addition to much of the working population suffering persistently poor sleep, over half (54%) are unable to stay awake during the day.
At a time when UK productivity is at just a quarter of the level before the financial crisis, the research lays bare how poor sleep is reducing employee outputs – a quarter (25%) say their sleep problems mean they are not able to complete work they had planned, as it makes it difficult for them to work fast and maintain the quality of their work. At the same time, employees are, on average, taking two sick days a year to catch up on sleep.
Despite work-related stress being the single biggest cause of poor sleep and the detrimental business impact of sleep-deprived employees, companies do not see sleep as a priority. Almost two thirds of business leaders (63%) say sleep is the sole responsibility of the individual, and more than a third (39%) agree there is nothing they can do to help their employees’ sleep health. Just 3% of companies have a sleep policy in place, despite guidance released from Public Health England last year that businesses need to do more to improve their employees’ sleep.
The problem is being further exacerbated as employees feel unable to raise their sleep difficulties with their bosses. Almost three quarters (70%) have never spoken about it to their employers for fear it would hold them back in their careers or increase scrutiny of their work. A quarter (26%) say they think their boss would not do anything about it, and just as many are worried colleagues wouldn’t understand the problem.
Despite the concerning status quo, the report identifies a clear opportunity for businesses to prioritise sleep health for the benefit of their employees’ wellbeing and their bottom-line:
Productivity – one in three (34%) people feel more productive and achieve more at work (39%) after a good night’s sleep. Two in five (44%) say being less tired would enable them to do their job better. A quarter (28%) say it is easier to complete tasks more quickly, and as many say the work they did was more accurate.
Talent attraction and retention – there is a clear appetite among employees for their companies to prioritise programmes to support better sleep health. More than a third (34%) say they would welcome or value initiatives that reduce the impact of working life on their sleep. As many as a third (33%) say they would even show more loyalty to a company that took action to support their sleep health.
Job satisfaction – almost a quarter (22%) said they enjoyed their work more and felt greater job satisfaction.
Company culture – a fifth (18%) say they have more positive interactions with colleagues.
The report concludes that an insidious workplace “sleep stigma” is rife across businesses and is exacerbating employee sleep and productivity problems. It sets out a Sleep Stigma Action Plan: Tangible actions for Government and businesses to end workplace sleep stigma and tackle the chronic sleep and productivity problems.
For Government, the recommendations are: to appoint a sleep tsar, responsible for ensuring Government departments including BEIS and Department of Health include sleep in future policies; to go beyond the review of sleep targets as set out in the Prevention Green Paper, and commission the Chief Medical Officer to set clear guidance on improving sleep health; and to call on all businesses with more than 250 employees to ensure sleep is included in workplace wellbeing policies.
For businesses, the recommendation is to create a sleep supportive workplace culture by: normalising conversations about sleep in the workplace, for example in appraisals; providing sleep education for managers so they can better recognise and actively support employees to improved sleep health; introducing a sleep-tracking and education programme for all employees; providing employees with a switch off mechanism so they do not take work home with them; and facilitating physical activity and exercise.
Mike Logue, CEO of Dreams, comments: “This report shows that Britain has a chronic sleep deficit and it is exacerbating our productivity crisis. Sleep is an opportunity to improve employee wellbeing and boost business, yet it is not being taken seriously. We need to put an end to workplace sleep stigma so more people and businesses can thrive.”
Dr Pixie McKenna, GP and sleep expert for Dreams, adds: “Sleep is fundamental to good physical health and wellbeing – yet the significant majority of people simply aren’t getting adequate sleep. With people in Britain spending more time at work than any other European nation, it’s no wonder our work experiences and places are having such a huge impact on our sleep health. It’s time for all of us in our personal and professional lives to prioritise getting better sleep.”
In response the report’s findings, Dreams has launched a Sleep Action Plan to help support its 2000 employees across the UK to sleep better. The programme includes: sleep health training for managers, delivered by expert CiC; conversations about sleep to be included in annual reviews; access to a 24-hour sleep helpline for all staff; sleep surgeries with Dr Pixie McKenna for all staff, giving them bespoke sleep guidance; sleep trackers for all staff to build understanding about their sleep patterns and how to improve it; and a sleep-supportive culture, including discouraging out-of-hours working.