Sleep Deprivation Is Harming Your Bottom Line

A bad night's sleep, or a night without enough sleep, might not just lead to weight gain, it can actually kill you, or leave you badly injured.

A bad night's sleep, or a night without enough sleep, might not just lead to weight gain, it can actually kill you, or leave you badly injured. A Harvard Medical School study—one of many on the subject—found that insomnia is responsible for 274,000 workplace accidents and errors each year, costing companies billions.

That this is the case is hardly surprising. According to the CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), 38 percent of American workers get less than the doctor-recommended seven hours of sleep a night. It makes sense, given the pressure-packed lifestyle of many Americans—long commuting times, overtime at work, night shifts, moonlighting, and plain old family pressures.

But, workers' sleep problems are employers' sleep problems—especially for workers in the manufacturing sector. According to the National Safety Council, 63 percent of workers in the manufacturing sector reported feeling tired at work, while a whopping 55 percent of employers reported finding workers asleep on the job. Meanwhile, 73 percent of employers in the manufacturing sector report that fatigue causes decreases in productivity, and 44 percent said fatigue was a cause of accidents on the job. Overall, 13 percent of all workplace injuries can be attributed to fatigue, the study said.

Those injuries, according to the Harvard study, cost companies as much as $31 billion a year. But those are just the “direct” costs of dealing with injuries; it doesn't take into account productivity costs due to “presenteeism,” where workers show, but are too tired to do their job productively.

A 2018 Japanese study shows that while companies, on average, lost $520 per employee annually, they had an annual loss of $3,055 due to presenteeism. That study covered losses from employees suffering from health problems, but it goes to show just how extensive the hidden costs of non- or lower-productive employees can be, and that is just as relevant for losses due to workers who don't sleep enough.

If lack of sleep is as much a problem for employers as it is for workers, it stands to reason that employers would want to implement policies that encourage workers to get a good night's sleep. There are several things they can do:

According to the National Safety Council, there are numerous risk factors on the job that encourage fatigue. Among them: shift work, especially overnight/rotating or irregular shifts; overtime, where workers spend more than 50 hours a week on the job; long shifts; especially physically demanding work; and long commutes.

A large number of employees—and employers—report being subjected to at least one of these risk factors, and many are subjected to two. “While a conclusion cannot be drawn in a definable fashion that two or more risk factors multiply risk, it is common sense that the more risk factors individuals have, the higher the probability that their work quality, productivity and safety will be affected,” the Council said, adding that when possible, employers can and should “look for ways to structure working days to minimize the number of concurrent fatigue risks. When concurrent fatigue risks are unavoidable, employees should be given additional recovery time.”

Alleviating risk factors, however, doesn't always work. If an employee lives an hour's commute away from the facility, there's little the company can do to change that. Yet, organizations do need to ensure that their employees are getting a good night's sleep. If risk factors can't be eliminated, perhaps they can be reduced. Thus, an organization can provide lodging for employees who work late for the occasional times they can't leave because of a problem or an emergency. Organizations can also structure work schedules to provide consistent hours for workers, enabling them to work set hours, ensuring that their circadian rhythms are stable.

Companies can also reach out and provide incentives for employees to get the seven hours of sleep scientists say they need. Sleep can be “gamified,” using apps and contests that provide perks for workers who “win” by getting a good night's sleep.

Organizations should also encourage the use of technology to promote sleep. As a holiday gift, for example, companies can provide employees with a wearable sleep headband, noise-masking sleepbuds, or other sensor or technology-based device that enhances sleep.

An employee who loses a finger on the production line, a worker who, because of fatigue, misses an important step in the production process—the direct losses mount up, leading to increased health care costs and lost money and time because of poor quality production. Then, there are the “affiliated” costs, like the lawsuits from customers who didn't get their merchandise on time, the civil lawsuit by the injured employee, and the eventual loss of customers and talent. These are nightmare scenarios, and lack of sleep can be a major factor in all of them. Companies need to defend themselves, and they can do so by helping their workers sleep better.

Amir Inditzky is the CEO of dayzz.

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