Employers and employees will not be productive if they are tired and not getting enough sleep. Fatigue at work leads to accidents, bad morale and loss of business. With the present economic environment more and more people are working long hours, split shifts and commuting long distances.
It is important to be aware of the signs of lack of sleep and take steps to improve performance and prevent the problems and suffering of a tired ‘below par’ workforce.
It is often not possible to change the workload or working environment but there are some practical ways to make adjustments and improve performance.
Shift Work and Your Employees’ Sleep
Companies that depend on shift work are being encouraged to look at improving rosters that allow sufficient days off and hours between shifts. They are also being encouraged to be aware of the times of day when fatigue may affect performance. For example it is logical to avoid difficult and dangerous tasks during likely dips like the early hours of the day and after lunch ‘siesta time’.
An awareness of individual’s different levels of performance is also recommended. Employers should be alert to changes such as signs of sleepiness such as irritability, loss of concentration, inability to follow instructions and other factors which not only affect performance but can also be dangerous in some situations.
What Can Employers Do About Sleeping Problems?
Firstly, an awareness of the need for sufficient rest and how it affects performance should be encouraged. Many people will not be aware that they or their colleagues are not getting enough sleep. Sleep is not a luxury and everyone needs to be aware of their own requirements which differ not only between individuals but at different stages of life.
Introduce Health Schemes
The demands and stresses of work mean that many people work long hours at less than their full capacity due to lack of rest. Employers may encourage staff to be more responsible for their health and increasingly offer and promote health schemes including exercise and improved nutrition. This is helpful as any improvements in general health and increase in physical activity can help improve sleep.
Reduce Work Stress
Anxiety is also a ‘sleep stopper’ and many people work in stressful environments. Although the cause may be difficult to remove, it is possible to learn some relaxation techniques and ways of dealing with work stress. Enlightened employers recognise that a calm workforce is better able to handle day to day stresses and demands.
Keep Workers Alert
Coffee is often provided in workplaces but constant coffee drinking can have negative affects causing side affects such as trembling, dizziness and insomnia. Used sparingly it can provide a quick fix. Napping well is also useful and shift and night workers should be encouraged to take a short nap during breaks. This needs to be coupled with an awareness of sleep inertia which is the time it takes to become fully alert after sleeping. In general, the longer the sleep, the longer it takes to become fully awake. This is not a good time to make decisions or operate dangerous machinery. So, probably the best advice would be to have a short 15 – 20 minute nap and then the ‘inertia’ will be acceptably short.
Adapt Working Hours
Adapting working hours can also give employees sufficient time to catch up on their sleep. With more people undertaking part time, shift work or extra jobs, they are often not having a full weekend to catch up on sleep. In the short term many people find this acceptable but the body soon needs to make up for lost sleep and symptoms such as irritability may alert employers and colleagues that all is not well…
By learning how to recognise signs of tiredness and taking the appropriate action it is possible to reduce accidents and improve short term performance until sleep works its magic – restoring vitality and alertness.