Employees spend an average of 40 hours per week working for their employer. If you do the math, that equates to approximately 80,000 hours at work per year minus at least 2 weeks paid vacation. This means that employees spend much of their waking hours at work in an environment that can be a hub for increased sources of pressure, stress, and health inhibitors.
Increasingly, there are articles and reports that highlight the harmful effects of prolonged sitting, lack of hydration, poor nutrition, regular exercise and sleep deprivation -- all habits that can be perpetuated in a work environment.
Research conducted by National Public Radio, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health reported that 59% of working adults feel their job has an impact on their stress level. As seen in this video by asapSCIENCE, stress has an impact on mental health, mood, weight, aging, chronic disease and sleep.
The Conference Board of Canada recently released a report highlighting that 27% of Canadians reported feeling tired most days or every day during the work week. From a blog I wrote in 2015 on productivity costs associated with employee sleep deprivation, we learned that sleep deprivation costs employers close to three-quarters of a billion dollars in lost work hours. Due to the importance of employee and its direct links to productivity, benefit costs, employee engagement and customer experience, I've written on related topics with a specific focus on workplace stress as well as sleep deprivation. I invite you to read these posts if you haven't done so already.
How is sleep deprivation affecting workplace productivity?
Tips and resources to address sleep deprivation in the workplace.
Stress in the workplace.
While workplace wellness programs continue to grow in prominence, the emphasis and initiatives associated with these programs vary significantly. Wellness efforts aimed at keeping employees healthy would benefit from a continued focus on prevention awareness tips and resources. These include, but are not limited to:
1) Policies regarding vacation entitlement and encouraging employees to take their full vacation each year. The National Public Radio report indicated that while 75% of respondents aid their workplace offers the paid vacation days, 31% used only some of it and 17% used none of their paid vacation days in the past 12 months.
2) Promote the opportunity for flexible work schedules if this is available with management taking an active part in leading by example.
3) Create regular reminders with realistic examples of how and when employees may wish to use the confidential employee assistance program.
4) Promote the use of health risk assessments and free online resources that help employees self identify any potential health concerns.
5) Dial up the link between health and overall well-being beyond nutrition and exercise directly to the importance of sleep in order better manage their emotions, reactivity and judgement.
Given the amount of time spend at work, employers have the ability to considerably influence the choices their employees make and the resources readily available to help them embrace a healthier and more stress-free lifestyle.
By providing regular reminders in a way that makes sense for them and are tailored to their preferences and behaviour patterns, employers can limit their exposure to high claims costs and the avalanche of poor health conditions that have the potential to negatively impact their group benefit plan experience.
With over two decades of industry experience, we've built up trusted relationships with service providers and clients alike. We understand the triggers that affect health outcomes and influence plan costs. We invite you to contact us to discuss additional ways to bring health awareness to your employees. We're here to help so that you can focus on what you do best.
Last month I blogged about the cost of sleep deprivation in the workplace. This topic is becoming more of an issue with the prevalence of stress in the workplace, people feeling overly connected to their mobile devices, along with a demographic cohort caught in the sandwich generation -
- those caring for children and aging parents.
Sleep researchers tell us that getting 8 hours a night of sleep is optimal for our health, but why? Is it just because we've read that sleep helps us with our memory? No, it is far more involved. Sleep plays a key role in the brain's physiological maintenance. When you sleep, the brain acts as a mental janitor and sweeps away all the junk like the protein beta-amyloid that has been accumulated throughout a day's worth of thinking.
Whether from a stressful week with tight deadlines or after pulling an all-nighter; the results of sleep deprivation aren't fun -- you struggle to focus, your reaction time is impaired, your short and long term memory is compromised, and it becomes more difficult to make decisions. Now, imagine the long-term outcomes of sleep deprivation. Picture someone suffering from insomnia or a shift worker. They have a greater tendency to experience a degeneration of key neurons responsible for alertness and cortical function. Getting less than 5 to 6 hours of sleep a night over long periods of time also speeds up the aging process, causes high blood pressure and can lead to obesity. Often workplace environments don't promote the importance of sleep. Work demands pile up and being 'plugged-in' and available 24/7 to meet the needs of a truly global workforce result in meetings happening late at night or in the wee hours of the morning.
Dr. Czeisler, a leading authority on human sleep cycles, says that to raise performance on the job, leaders should pay attention to the effects of sleep deprivation. This includes the consideration of:
1) creating a corporate sleep policy. There are policies for non-smoking and anti-discrimination. Why not have one for sleep?
*limiting scheduled work to no more than 12 hours a day with at least 11 consecutive hours of rest every 24 hours.
*Shift workers should not be permitted to work more than 4 or 5 consecutive days with at least one day off.
* For business travel: avoid taking red-eye flights and if overnight travel is required, a day should be given to adapt to sleep deprivation and a possible new time zone. If the meeting must be scheduled after an overnight flight, a taxi or car services should be arranged to prevent a sleep deprived worker from driving.
* provide an annual screening for sleep disorders to help identify those at high risk (i.e. narcolepsy)
* training for supervisors and managers in sleep and fatigue management
2) Educate employees: instead of creating a sleep-culture where those who work crazy hours are seen as heroes or martyrs, educate employees about the link between sleep, health, and workplace safety.
* sleeping in a darkened and quiet room free of electric devices.
* avoiding drinking alcohol before bed as it acts as a stimulant rather than a sleep-aid.
* avoiding drinking caffeine late in the day (after 4pm) as it lingers in the body for several hours.
* promoting regular exercise of at least 1.5 hours per week
* trying a sound machine with white noise to keep the brain focused on the task of sleeping.
* keeping a journal beside the bed to help you write down your thoughts that may be worrying you and keeping you from drifting off to sleep.
* contacting your doctor who can help diagnose the root cause of your sleep deprivation issues.
Employees are often kept awake by several issues that may not appear to be related to employees with sleep deficits, but upon closer examination, they uncover their co-relation. We have a host of resources to help employers provide current and relevant tips for employees on this topic. The following list is only a sample of what might be helpful to explore.
This topic will continue to cause challenges in the workplace. The more employers promote ways to address the issue, the more workers will be encouraged to make quality sleep a priority. I invite you to contact us. We have a dedicated and experienced team here to help so that you can focus on what you do best.
Dave Dickinson, B.Comm, CFP, CLU, CHFC
Experienced Benefits Specialist ready to optimize your group benefits and pension plans.