Business leaders once routinely boasted of their abilities to perform without sleep and push their employees to do the same. But that’s changed — dramatically.
Today, contemporary leaders — Arianna Huffington being a prime example — are championing the cause of healthy sleep habits for all professionals. Huffington, who suffered an injury in 2007 when she fell while exhausted, has dedicated space in her books, Thrive and The Sleep Revolution, to encourage CEOs to promote healthy sleeping habits throughout their organizations.
Here are some tips for putting her principles into action for your own company.
Respect your employees’ personal time.
Few things will cause employees to burn out faster than when they feel their work dictates all hours of their day. So, how does a company end up with a culture where this is commonplace? As with most things, it starts at the top. If you, as a leader, expect your direct reports to pull all-nighters and answer emails at 3:00 a.m. then they’ll begin to expect the same of their subordinates, and so on.
This doesn’t mean that working overtime should be strictly prohibited — that expectation is unreasonable in the current business environment. But, a significant gap exists between that reality and business cultures where people talk about how little sleep they get as a badge of honor.
Let your team members know through the model you set that you value their time away from work, including time for sleeping and engaging with their friends and family members.
At work, many things can wait until “tomorrow morning.” Therefore, encourage your colleagues to prioritize a better work-life balance, because it’s healthier for them, you and your company in the long run.
Educate your team about the science behind sleep.
Even once you build a company culture that encourages healthy sleep habits, you’ll probably still have some employees who routinely work late evenings, sacrificing sleep. Whether they think they function better with less rest or are hoping to prove themselves to their superiors hardly matters; the science behind sleep deprivation is indisputable.
One valuable service to provide employees is educating them about the harmful effects sleep deprivation has on human health and their performance. Prepare presentations that detail these effects and incentivize your team members to attend. Distribute materials that outline the main facts. Let them know that sleep deprivation puts people at greater risk for certain illnesses.
Inform employees that getting only five to six hours of sleep per night has roughly the same effect on a person’s ability to process information as having a few drinks. This can greatly impair their ability to think strategically.
On the other hand, people who regularly get good sleep are more likely to find it easy to get motivated at work, be satisfied with their job and be satisfied with their work performance.
Intersperse sprints with more relaxed work periods.
In every company, especially startups and growing organizations, there are going to be periods where everyone on the team will have to work unusually hard to complete a big project before an important deadline. As a leader, it’s up to you to pay close attention to the frequency of these “sprints” and to encourage employees to stay healthy both while they’re happening and afterward.
Most of us can sustain the rigors of a sprint for short periods of time, but there’s a reason why we don’t see marathon runners going at the same pace as Usain Bolt. Trying to maintain that non-stop level of activity over longer intervals is dangerous and ultimately counterproductive.
When you know your team members have pushed themselves harder than usual, make sure to balance these periods with interim spans where everyone works at a more moderate pace, allowing them to recharge.
Nurture a culture that is supportive of breaks and activity.
Before the rise of modern office culture, when most people were working manually, break time was a valuable currency. Employees knew they needed to maximize their breaks to rest and prepare themselves for the remainder of the shift, and they took full advantage of the opportunities they were given.
Fast-forward to the modern world, where employees can spend an entire day at their desk without getting up. An important danger here is that being too sedentary during waking hours can increase the risk of sleep apnea and other sleep disorders, thereby disrupting employees’ ability to maintain their health and to function at work.
To combat this issue, encourage your workers to take regular breaks and use these down times for more than just sitting at their desks and browsing social media on their phones.
Create a sleep-friendly work space.
Company leaders are paying more attention to the effect their physical workspace has on their employees, and this includes sleep habits.
One component here is the need for natural light. Studies have shown that regular exposure to natural light is vital to the establishment of healthy sleep rhythms. So, work with engineers and health experts to configure your spaces so team members have access to as much natural light as possible.
Nap rooms and other designated sleeping areas in offices are also becoming more commonplace. At Amerisleep, we have napping areas that allow staff to recharge mid-day. Even though some employees don’t take advantage of these spaces, our intention is to send a clear signal to the team that their employer values sleep and its positive impact on employee health.