Do you need a sleep pod? 'Let staff rest at work' says Public Health England

09 April 2018 -

Sleep pod workDedicated office space for staff to switch off and relax during the working day could result in increased productivity and cost-savings, experts say

Jermaine Haughton

Ever notice a colleague constantly yawning at their desk or struggling to stay awake during meetings? It’s unfortunately common. Sleep deprivation or poor-quality rest can have a major effect on work performance, denting everything from creativity to attention to detail.

To avoid this, a new guidance report by Public Health England (PHE) urges employers to help staff improve their ‘sleep hygiene’. For the modern office worker, technology has allowed constant access to work from most remote locations making it different to switch off.

Public Health England, an executive agency of the Department of Health and Social Care, has recommended employers implement a sleep management programme, including the provision of appropriate places for staff to rest in and around the workplace.

This would likely boost individual and team productivity because downtime at work can help people slow down and get better quality sleep at night, the body said. “Sleep is not just critical to recovery, it essential for maintaining cognitive skills such as communicating well, remembering key information and being creative and flexible in thought,” says Justin Varney, national lead for adult health and wellbeing at Public Health England, in the blog post.

Employees are losing sleep

Previous research by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) shows the average person in the UK is under-sleeping by about an hour a night, losing the equivalent of an entire night’s sleep a week. A separate study by YouGov and the Sleep Apnoea Trust Association (SATA) also found women to be at particular risk, with almost half of British women (43%) saying they are not getting enough sleep. In fact, 45% say they do not feel well-rested when they wake up. Meanwhile 60% of women said it resulted in them feeling irritable during the day.

“People who fail to sleep between seven and nine hours a day find their performance at work deteriorates, are easily distracted, have a less effective memory and are more likely to be in a bad mood,” Varney explains in the post developed in partnership with corporate responsibility body Business in the Community. There are also links between lack of proper sleep and high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.

Based on the negative impact tired employees have on productivity and absenteeism, research firm

Rand Europe found sleep-deprived workers are costing the UK economy £40bn a year – the equivalent of c.1.86% of economic growth.

Sleep pods could improve staff retention

The first step for managers, according to the PHE guidance, is to help professionals feel confident enough to talk about their quality of sleep and the impact on their performance. Giving each employee frequent openings to express themselves and their views, in either a collective or one-to-one environment, stepping back and assessing the social dynamics of your teams and reacting quickly to solve concerns and queries are keys to creating such a harmonious environment. A study by Daniel G. Spencer from the University of Kansas found that a high number of mechanisms for employee voice correlated strongly with a high degree of retention and wellbeing.

Three ways to help employees rest at work

In addition, managers can encourage better "sleep hygiene" by investing in more flexible work practices and workspaces. This includes setting up comfortable quiet rooms for staff to relax in (see money transfer service firm TransferWise‘s hammock and sauna), stopping out-of-work emails (see automaker Daimler) and devising shift patterns that give workers time to recover between workdays (see freelance talent marketplace Upwork’s Work Online Wednesdays).

Employer sleep management programmes can also include seminars to inform staff about the dangers of overusing smartphones or tablets and provide valuable self-help tips on how to implement fixed bedtimes, regular exercise, and avoid watching TV in bed.

It may sound counterintuitive but resting at work is just one example of unconventional wisdom that has proved an effective management technique.

Read: Five more examples of unconventional wisdom

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