A new tool has been launched to help employees get a better night’s sleep. It could be a valuable way to open discussion and education around the value of a good sleeping routine.
Employee health and wellbeing – the value of a good night’s sleep
What has been billed as the first sleep and recovery “toolkit” specifically designed to help employers assist their employees to get a better night’s sleep and boost productivity has been launched by Business in the Community (BITC) in association with Public Health England (PHE).
The toolkit is designed to help employers and employees alike understand the causes, and consequences, of sleep deprivation, and to set out practical steps and advice to support a good night’s sleep.
It covers topics such as the importance of good job design, the impact of shift or irregular working, working across time-zones, and driving and road safety.
It also outlines how to create a supportive workplace culture and environment, including (to cite just some examples) offering training to managers on how to spot signs of sleep deprivation, recognising the value of allowing time for recovery or flexi-time, not viewing travel time as “down time”, and ensuring employees properly “unplug” (in all senses) when they’re away from work.
Good-quality sleep and recovery
More widely, the toolkit highlights the business and moral case for good-quality sleep and recovery. It includes a checklist of actions for employers to take, under the broad themes of being prepared, encouraging good sleep and recovery, and providing knowledge and training.
Dr Justin Varney, National Lead for Adult Health and Wellbeing at PHE, said: “This toolkit contains lots of simple steps for employers of all sizes and sectors to take in supporting better sleep for staff and reducing or preventing work being the cause of sleep deprivation.
“It’s designed to support leaders, practitioners and line managers to create a workplace culture in which employees understand the need for sleep and recovery, as one strand of an integrated approach to maximising employee health and wellbeing.”
BITC’s wellbeing director Louise Aston added: “It is critical for organisations to understand the impact of sleep and recovery for the health and wellbeing of employees, and the implications for productivity. Sleep is still a largely neglected taboo topic for employers fearing they are crossing the line between work and peoples’ personal lives by even talking about it with employees.”
Legal requirements and responsibilities
What, then, should employers be taking away from this?
First, it is simply the fact this new resource exists and is available to them to use and communicate.
Second, it is about recognising that employers have minimum legal requirements and obligations in this area. Employers have a legal duty to manage risks from fatigue and sleep deprivation, especially around shift working, irrespective of any individual’s willingness to work extra hours or preference for certain shift patterns. Compliance with the Working Time Regulations alone is not enough to manage the risks of fatigue.
Third, it is about recognising that sleep deprivation is a growing public health issue.
It is estimated, for example, that one in three people in the UK affected by insomnia, something that is growing as we increasingly become a 24/7 “always on” society. Sleep deprivation has been calculated by the consultancy RAND Europe to result in 200,000 working days lost every year, costing the UK economy £30bn.
Links to blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes
The links between a lack of sleep and increased risk of accidents and injury have long been recognised. But there is also a growing understanding of the links between poor sleeping patterns and high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.
More widely, sleep is of course essential for maintaining day-to-day cognitive skills, such as communicating well, remembering key information, and being creative and flexible in thought.
Finally, this toolkit may have a wider purpose: to help to kickstart awareness and conversation within workplaces around the importance of good sleeping, healthy diet and proper work-life balance.
As Dr Lucy Wright, Chief Medical Officer at Optima Health, makes the point: “Employers may think how and when employees sleep and how they manage their down-time outside of work is outside their domain of influence. And to an extent, of course, it is.
“But with many people living increasingly hectic and full-on lives, both working and personal, support, tips and communication around ‘good’ sleep can well be valuable. Recognising that a good night’s sleep is not just a ‘nice to have’, that it is a key part of a healthy lifestyle, is an important first step.
“Employers cannot, of course, direct their employees in how they should spend their evenings and night-times. But they can create the conditions and the environment – and the advice and education – that will help employees properly to switch off,” she adds.