The intersection between HR strategy and HR technology


Sleep, Work-Life and Performance

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Many of us who read systematicHR are in the same situation. We’re good at what we do, we’re over-worked, we’re committed to achievement, and our employers expect us to succeed. It all boils down to one thing – most of us are not getting enough sleep.

Dubs is writing about sleep? You ask. Why yes. As described in Harvard Business Review:

The general effect of sleep deprivation on cognitive performance is well-known: Stay awake longer than 18 consecutive hours, and your reaction speed, short-term and long-term memory, ability to focus, decision-making capacity, math processing, cognitive speed, and spatial orientation all start to suffer. Cut sleep back to five or six hours a night for several days in a row, and the accumulated sleep deficit magnifies these negative effects. ((Harvard Business Review. October 2006. “Sleep Deficit: The Performance Killer.))

Most interesting to me are that focus, decision making ability and cognitive speed were negatively impacted by a lack of sleep. In most cases, the government (in the U.S. at least) has regulated work. By implementing overtime wages (and double time in some cases), as well as agencies like the FAA dictating the number of flight hours/sleep hours airplane pilots can have, employees governed by hours have been monitored for some time. In many other countries, culture has helped as well. Heck, siesta is a real thing in Spain, and most of Europe really does take the month of August off. (systematicHR site hits drop every August – go figure).

Unfortunately, those of us in executive or otherwise influential positions are not governed by hours and do often put in ridiculous hours. There are two sides to looking at this – self governance and managing the workforce. Self governance is simply the realization that you’ll be more effective with some sleep – so minimizing the number of “all nighters” is important (I’ve done 2 all nighters so far this month). The management viewpoint is more important however, as it applies to how we interact with our employees and what we expect from them. Realistic expectations should be set – this means training managers to staff projects adequately, and the set reasonable time tables.

Sleep is absolutely a human resources issue. Whether you make it policy or you have training guidelines around it, your organizational performance is what takes a hit if you ignore it.

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One response to “Sleep, Work-Life and Performance”

  1. Lavinia Weissman Avatar

    Makes one wonder if the ethic of 24/7 work was retired and everyone had to take the time to eat properly, sleep and exercise what kind of change would emerge?

    In a report issued by Booz Allen Hamilton, 2 years back,on health information technology, it was cited that the US health care system costs 200% more than the most expensive country in the European Union (Switzerland).

    According to my colleagues at Institute for Alternative Futures,
    there is a rise in chronic illness that has been measured between 100 and 133M people out of the 300M US population
    that has resulted $659B cost to society that includes inefficiencies and challenges to treating chronic illness. These numbers have significant implications on workforce issues and talent or untalent management as Dubs would say.

    If the US is indeed faced with a talent shortage what is it doing to protect its workforce from chronic illness?

    People who are prone to chronic illness, don’t necessarily have to get sick. Environmental toxins, sleep deprivation and more can activate the gene so someone ends up with diabetes, MS, CFS, FMS, or Cancer and other diseases.

    What is even more interesting is that most of these diseases respond well to treatment that is not typically covered by health insurance that begins with a person putting a stop to sleep deprivation. So putting some of these chronic diseases into remission requires exercising health habits. So if the culture of work honors health, there would less need for expenditures that require health insurance, simply deciding to follow a simpler life — fewer red eye flights, more time based at home and the time any human being needs to grieve loss or recover from colds, flu and other.

    I am pleased to announce that WorkEcology has entered into a partnership with a group out of Mt. Sinai Hospital in NYC to put a report on anyone’s desk– doctor or consumer that assures you the most current quality medical treatment information on any disease drawing on credentialed reports from 120+ medical journals. The reports will include an index for the information and also reveal where practitioners disagree or agree on recommended treatments for informed decisions.

    This subscription can be organized to assure a person ongoing release of information rather than waiting for a medical academy to release a report on approved treatment. It provides an intelligent consumer an opportunity to partner with clinicians with a more evidential based approach to health care.

    Any employer, person or clinician concerned with health in the workplace and assuring best practice to anyone faced with ill health can contact me personally to subscribe to our initial pilot we plan to launch late Spring at