The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults get at least seven hours of sleep every night. We all know it, but how many of us actually live it?
In IT support, getting the minimum hours of sleep can be a challenge. With so many tickets, projects, and deadlines, we’re often overworked and under-rested.
But sleep matters. And many companies are implementing measures to keep employees rested, including shorter work weeks and wellness programs that focus on long-term productivity.
The high cost of sleepy employees
Sleepy workers are all too common. A survey conducted by researchers with Caremark found that nearly 38% of employees felt fatigued at least once in a two-week period.
The study also discovered that 66% of people reporting fatigue also experienced lost productive time.
The study went on to estimate that fatigued workers cost employers $136 billion every year.
Another study found that insufficient sleep costs the United States roughly 1.2 million working days every year. The problem isn’t exclusively an American one either. Japan, the UK, Germany, and Canada all lose massive amounts of productivity because of lost sleep and fatigue.
You wouldn’t imagine allowing your techs to come to work drunk, but according to a study from the University of South Wales in Sydney, Australia, moderate sleep deprivation can be just as disruptive to productivity as intoxication.
The study compared performance between people with 28 hours of sleep deprivation and people with a blood alcohol level of 0.1%. After 17 hours without sleep—roughly a typical day—test performance was equal to or worse than having 0.05% blood alcohol content.
After a longer period, performance was about the same as having 0.1% blood alcohol content.
And Harvard researchers have linked sleep deprivation to a decline in mental abilities.
There’s virtually unanimous agreement that less sleep leads to a reduction in alertness and attention. And there’s now mounting evidence that fatigue also affects higher levels of cognition, such as perception and memory.
So there’s little doubt: If you or your employees are fatigued, it could be costing your company productivity, performance, and profits.
What can you do about sleepy employees?
What can you and your team do to enhance productivity by reducing fatigue? Obviously you can’t require mandatory lights-out for your team, but there are measures you can take to increase the likelihood of rested employees.
Like all health and well-being issues, education is the first step. Let your team know about the benefits of proper sleep and how it will enhance their performance at work. If your team allows for profit-sharing or other performance-related benefits, coming to work well-rested can be a strong motivator.
You could take a cue from companies who’ve successfully enhanced productivity and reduced fatigue. Wachovia Bank, for example, put a group of employees through an “energy management” program, which included regular breaks, breathing exercises, and intentional expressions of gratitude, such as “thank you” emails.
Participants of the program had higher performance levels in the value of their work and saw significant improvements in employee relationships.
Epic Brokers, a successful retail insurance broker, offers more suggestions for dealing with fatigue at work. After education, they also suggest that companies make fatigue a part of the wellness program and shift the company culture to emphasize well-rested employees.
When crafting a wellness program, they suggest rewriting health risk appraisals to include questions about sleep and fatigue, then using this information to create specific action plans for sleep disorders or general fatigue issues.
You can also ask employees about when they’re fatigued and consider extra break time during these periods. Quiet break areas, good lighting, and healthy food options can all help.
In IT, we often have on-call staff, so make sure these people are rotated regularly. You can also consider keeping shifts to eight hours or less and being very firm about maintaining this schedule, even when your team is busy.
Are you sabotaging a good night’s sleep?
If you’re an IT manager or leader, it’s always wise to implement measures that fight fatigue on your team—but what are you doing to personally stay rested?
If you’re working yourself to exhaustion, you might think you’re making necessary, unavoidable sacrifices for your company. In truth, most elite business leaders are doing the opposite: they’re taking intentional steps to increase their level of rest.
As author, speaker, and entrepreneur Tim Ferris explains it, the top 1% of performers are “prioritizing sleep above almost anything else.”
So what can you do to improve your own sleep? Start by making sure you’re avoiding any sleep-negative habits. Don’t use screens in the bedroom or drink caffeine in the afternoon, for example. Disconnect from work—no quick email checks just before bed—and stick to a consistent bedtime as much as possible.
One bit of advice for letting go of the day’s demands: Make a to-do list for the next day. A list puts your mind at ease and helps clear nagging thoughts from your brain. You’ll be more relaxed and hit the pillow ready for a restful night.
It can be difficult to get more sleep when you work in IT, but if you focus on rest and energy, you can be more productive and successful.