Being Rested and Productive

We live in an age where we have to be “super people” to be successful.  We have to work overtime, take our children to three activities per week, keep the nicest house, workout regularly to stay healthy, have time for family, and make a difference in our community.  Somewhere in that crazy list we need time for ourselves and to connect without our significant other.  As we tally up our 26 hour day, most of us are tempted to trade away our sleep.  Recent studies have shown that most people sleep less than we think we do.  Most adults sleep between six and seven hours per night with women sleeping less than men in many cases.  Between 1985 and 2009, the percentage of people who slept less than seven hours has shot up from 23% to 35% (http://thechart.blogs.cnn.com/2011/03/03/cdc-1-in-3-adults-sleep-less-than-7-hours/).  Being tired has just become part of being an adult in our modern world.

Although it may not seem like a big deal, the lack of sleep relates to a number of major problems:

  • Reduced ability to concentrate ;
  • Decreased attention to detail;
  • Increased risk of motor vehicle accidents; and
  • Medical problems, including obesity, diabetes and hypertension.

We have all felt the 2 or 3pm dragging feeling after a big lunch or a night out the evening before.  Some of us might have even been in meetings where we nodded off.  Research has found that one in five adults suffer from daytime sleepiness at work.  Moreover, among those aged 18 to 34, 50 percent say that daytime sleepiness interferes with their daily work (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/02/0224_050224_sleep.html).

What happens when the cause of the tiredness is your workload?  Ernst Abbe conducted some of the first productivity studies around 1880.  His studies found that we are very productive for up to 40 hours, but our productivity decreases after that due to fatigue.  As we tire, we make more mistakes, miss details, and produce less output per hour worked.  Losing one night of sleep impacts us the same as being over the legal alcohol level for the day.

In addition, research has shown that the impact of a lack of rest is not uniform on the brain.  After 24 hours of sleep deprivation, there is an overall reduction of six percent in glucose reaching the brain. The visual as well as thinking part of the brain is significantly impacted.  In other words, we diminish our ability to collect as well as analyze data from the outside world (http://www.inc.com/margaret-heffernan/the-truth-about-sleep-and-productivity.html?nav=linkedin).

What can we do as managers and leaders to diminish fatigue in our workplace?

Set reasonable schedules – Some managers love to have employees burn the “midnight oil” because it makes the unit look productive.  However, it is important that timelines and deliverables be tied to reality.  There is clearly a tradeoff between finishing poor quality work fast and taking a little more time and doing something right.  Agreeing to reasonable deadlines directly relates to employee fatigue.

Emphasize health – A healthy workforce is a productive workforce.  Most managers accept that health is important to productivity, but sleep is a factor that is many times overlooked.  Sleep is as important as a healthy diet and exercise. Emphasizing rest and raising awareness as part of the wellness plan will make a difference in the potential value employees place on rest.

Factor in Drop Off – If employees are required to work more or offered alternative schedules that require more than eight hours a day, it is important to factor in time to recuperate before moving ahead with the same demands.  Flexible scheduling builds in the time to recoup by having a four day work week.  Although there are diminished returns in the ninth and tenth hour, the overall effort is regained before returning to work.  Requiring people to work more than 40 hours a week consistently results in a drop off in productivity and if not addressed can lead to burnout, health issues, or disengagement.

Clearly, a sleepy workforce is an unproductive workforce.

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