One of the issues discussed at our HR conference last month was the importance of sleep. Our guest speaker, Geraldine Joaquim from Mind Your Business, discussed how organisations can recognise sleep as a foundation for well-being and support their employees in getting a good night's sleep.
Advancements in information technology have enabled the growth of a 24/7 culture and a way of working that increases our responsiveness and ability to undertake work away from the office. While smart phones and superfast broadband mean that in many cases workers can provide their services just as easily when away from their place of work, this increased connectivity has led to the unintended consequence of the “always-on” working culture where employees see their down-time continue to shrink. A study by the UK Chartered Management Institute in 2016 found that some “always-on” managers were working 29 extra days a year and suffering from rising levels of stress.
Across a host of sectors business are waking up to the potential downside of such working practices, and in particular its impact on their employees’ sleep. Last month the Financial Times reported on steps being taken in law firms in the UK to tackle the impact of sleep deprivation on both mental health and physical wellbeing. Although the profession has long been dominated by a competitive long-hours culture increasingly firms are recognising that can be detrimental not just to their employee’s health but also may impact upon their profitability. This has led to numerous firms looking to focus more on their employees wellbeing and encouraging their employees to get enough sleep. As identified by Professor Geoff Bird, cognitive neuroscientist at Oxford University:
“Stressed people take two to three times longer to do things. [If my lawyers are stressed] then I’m overpaying. If I know there’s a firm that has rested people, Id’ give them my business, as it’s better value for money.”
It is not only work related technology and cultures that are keeping us from our rest. Blue light emitted by screens on mobile phones, computers, tablets, and televisions inhibit the body’s ability to produce melatonin, a hormone that controls natural sleep patterns. A reduction in its production can make it harder to fall asleep, and if you have spent all day working with technology your mind also needs some time to unwind. Leaving technology in the bedroom can continue to cause problems even once you are asleep, with sleep patterns potentially being disrupted by the ping of late night texts, emails, calls, or social media updates.
Some governments have sought to intervene to address these challenges such in France, where a right to disconnect was introduced in 2017 which placed restrictions on the ability of employees to receive emails outside office hours. Others are considering following suit: a right to disconnect bill is being considered in New York, and the Irish Government announced in the summer that it would consider similar legislation.
As ever there are potential tech solutions available to individuals to meet these tech-related challenges. Small, portable sleep trackers, such as Fit Bits, as well as sleep-related apps, are widely available. These devices and applications help individuals record data such as how many hours of sleep they may get each night or how many time they may wake up.
Blue light can be reduced by free software programs, which work by gradually increasing orange tones in place of blue on computer screens during the evening. Similarly, colour-changing light bulbs are available which more closely mimic the natural world by introducing warmer tones synced to the sunset/sunrise cycle. Lights can also be programmed to dim automatically to reduce the dazzling effect of standard bulbs that might otherwise wake you up.
After the smart phone and smart watch a smart bed was perhaps inevitable and the mattress company Sleep Number recently unveiled such a bed which tracks sleep patterns through body temperature and movement and seeks to adjust accordingly to different situations.
Ultimately adopting good sleep hygiene is an individual choice and employers cannot ensure that their employees get enough sleep. Adopting a ‘hirune’ or lunchtime sleep, which is becoming more commonplace in Japanese companies to address the countries sleeping problem, may be a step too far for many employers. However adopting and promoting more healthy and sustainable working practices, may result in a happier and more productive workforce.
Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.