Sleep and the workplace: the latest trends and research

The work culture

With Australians working longer hours than ever before and working the longest hours of all countries in the developed world, businesses are finding that they need to provide a greater number of more innovative ‘perks’ to reward their employees’ hard work, to keep their employees’ productive and to ensure they attract and retain the best workers in a competitive marketplace.

Some common examples of perks used by leading organisations, according to Human Capital Magazine’s Perky Perks article include additional maternity/paternity or ‘personal health’ leave, referral bonuses and training.

According to the article, technology company Google and private health insurance intermediary iSelect offer a range of innovative employee rewards, the most innovative being a ‘sleep pod’ where workers can have a short power nap in order to recharge during the work day.

Alla Keogh, HR director, iSelect believes that the benefits of providing such perks well outweigh the costs.  He advised that “we’ve reduced attrition to a level that is just unheard of in the call centre industry, we’ve got incredibly low absenteeism, [and] high engagement”.

The research

The concept of napping was also recently discussed on ABC radio’s Health ReportAccording to presenter Thea O’Conner, “the humble nap is a simple and effective cure for the afternoon slump and in some workplaces it can mean the difference between life and death”.  Professor Leon Lack, sleep researcher at Flinders University, reported that many people are “genetically programmed” to experience periods of drowsiness in the early morning and/or early afternoon.  His experiments showed that a 10 minute nap causes an immediate increase in alertness without grogginess, with the benefits lasting for up to 2.5 hours.

In addition to a temporary recharge, responding to the body’s need for sleep has other longer term benefits including providing protection against a range of health problems such as poor immunity, high blood pressure, high blood glucose, osteoporosis and brain over-activation, according to Dr Craig Hassed, GP and senior lecturer at Monash University.

On an even more serious note, managing the effects of fatigue can prevent serious work accidents, such as two fatal road accidents involving Queensland miners driving home after working long shifts that were investigated by a coroner this February.

How RightPeople can help

Is fatigue an issue for your organisation?  Would a sleep pod be the right perk to offer your employees?  It is likely to be something that can be fairly easily implemented in most organisations, and it may be particularly useful for shiftworkers and those who put in extra hours late into the night.

However, it is important to do your research first.  People have different requirements for the amount and timing of sleep based on their individual circadian rhythms.  Thecomments on the ABC Radio’s Health Report transcript also indicate that people have different optimal nap periods.

The Shift Work Suitability Indicator (STI) is a self-report measure that examines peak performance at work.  Its construction is based on a broad three-dimensional model of circadian typology encompassing the scales of ‘Morningness’, ‘Eveningness’ and ‘Sleep Debt Propensity’.

The subscales help quantify people’s need for sleep and identify those who are best suited to jobs that involve shiftwork or unusual hours, and likely to be able to tolerate irregular sleep patterns.

It is a well-researched measure that can be used in isolation or added to a battery of psychometric tests for job selection or job redesign purposes, or to determine whether a sleep pod could help boost your employees’ productivity.

Contact us to find out more.