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How Sleep Deprivation Can Impact Employee Productivity

7 June 2019 7 min read

A young casual businessman sleeping on a sofa during a work break in a creative office

You don’t need us to tell you how bad it feels to not get enough sleep. Who hasn’t woken up after a restless night feeling groggy, irritable, sluggish, and perpetually on the verge of “coming down with something”?

We know we need sleep to function. Our bodies are not exactly subtle at telling us when we need to sleep.

So why are so many of us not getting enough sleep? And what effect is sleep deprivation having on employee productivity?


The Effects of Sleep Deprivation on the Body and the Mind


Lack of sleep affecting workplace productivity


Sleep deprivation is no laughing matter. In some parts of the world, it’s used as an interrogation technique. This is a nice way of saying that going too long without sleep is literally torture.

Lack of sleep can leave you feeling grumpy, lethargic, and utterly incapable of being your best self. But if more people understood the long-term effects of sleep deprivation, then we’d probably all commit to turning in by nine each night.

It goes beyond bad moods and a lack of focus. Regular poor sleep increases your risk of contracting such serious medical conditions as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. That’s right – losing sleep can significantly shorten your life expectancy.

Which, ironically, really is something to lose sleepover…


The Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Workplace Productivity


Lack of sleep affecting employee productivity


So it should come as no surprise that sleep deprivation has a detrimental effect on workplace productivity.

Obviously, an irritable and groggy employee isn’t going to be able to work to their full potential. Their output’s going to suffer, and this could have a snowball effect. People may struggle to work with someone so surly, so the whole team dynamic could be upset.

If another employee has to pick up the slack caused by an exhausted employee, it may lead to a culture of resentment and hostility. And if other employees have to work harder to make up for one employee’s shortfall, they too are going to become stressed and tired. This might result in loss of sleep and further problems down the line.

But this isn’t the only way sleep deprivation can affect workplace productivity. Some employees get so tired that they decide they just can’t face a day of work, so they call in sick instead. A recent study found that European businesses lose 1.2 million working days a year due to sleep deprivation. And any instance of unplanned absence is going to cost your business dearly.


Other Workplace Problems Caused by Workplace Productivity


Sleep deprivation causing accidents

Yep, it gets worse.

When you’re unfocused and physically exhausted, you’re essentially a liability, an accident waiting to happen.

What if your job involves heavy lifting, or operating heavy machinery? If your focus slips, you could cause an accident, resulting in a serious injury for you or others. An accident like this is going to incur no end of expenses before we even begin to consider the spiraling costs of long-term sickness absence.

But even if you don’t use heavy machinery in your work, you may still drive to and from the workplace. Your job may even involve extensive driving to meet with customers, contractors, and other third parties. Needless to say, driving while tired is a very bad idea.

Finally, sleep deprivation won’t just kill your company’s productivity. It could also make it impossible for your business to grow in the long term.

The long-term success of your business relies on fast-thinking and fresh ideas. If your company is going to thrive, you need to be able to draw from the innate creativity of your entire team.

Exhausted people struggle to be creative. Sleep deprivation upsets our problem-solving skills, and our ability to think in the abstract. The incredible ideas your business needs to succeed won’t come so easily if your team’s too tired.


Why Aren’t We Sleeping Enough?


What impacts a lack of sleep


Some people aren’t getting enough sleep due to health conditions such as sleep apnoea. But for the vast majority of people, poor sleep is simply a result of poor sleeping habits.

In the working world, it’s easy to imagine how people develop poor sleeping habits. It seems like common sense that sleep deprivation will have a negative effect on productivity. Yet still, the myth persists that sleeping is some kind of inconvenience. Too many people still seem to think that they need to be always-on, delivering their 110% 24/7 and that any time spent sleeping is simply time spent not working.

This myth needs to die and fast. It’s because of this myth that too many people are stressed at work. Ironically, the widespread belief that resting and recuperating is bad for business is having a devastating effect on businesses around the world.

And it is indeed a myth that success comes from not sleeping. Most people would agree that Bill Gates is a pretty successful guy. But even Bill Gates once confessed that he needs at least seven hours of sleep a night to stay focused and creative.

If Bill Gates can build an empire while still making time for seven hours of sleep a night, then none of us have any excuse. We must commit to getting the sleep we need to stay focused, healthy, and happy.

The NHS advises that the majority of people need around eight hours of good-quality sleep a night in order to function properly. Some people need more, some need less. What really matters is that we take the time to understand how much sleep we need and that we each make a conscious effort to achieve our nightly targets.


How Can Employers Help Their Employees Get Enough Sleep?



You cannot control what your employees do out of working hours, and nor would you want to. Sleep is a personal and private affair, and it’s not your position to interfere in your employees’ sleeping habits.

But that said, there are a few things you can do to help your employees get the sleep they need.

Certain organizations have made it their mission to communicate the need for sleep. You could arrange for a spokesperson from one of these companies to visit your workplace and make their case to your team. Try contacting Mind, or The Sleep Council.

But the best thing you can do to help your team get a good night’s sleep is to create the type of company culture that values employee wellbeing.

Certain workplace policies can help your employees achieve a good work/life balance. And an integral part of a good work/life balance is to never let work interfere with sleep.

So make it clear to your employees that you don’t expect them to take their work home with them. Tell them that they’re never to check emails out of office hours. Tell them to come and talk to you if they feel their workload is so demanding that they’ve no choice but to work into the night. Then work together to find a solution that ensures that the work is completed without the employee losing any sleep.

Creating this sort of organizational culture shift is a long-term process, and it may be one of the most challenging things your business ever attempts. But the benefits of a healthy, happy, rested, engaged and creative workforce are far too numerous to list. Any time and money you invest in your employees’ wellbeing will be time and money very well spent.

Our Essential Guide to Workplace Wellbeing whitepaper has dozens of ideas for how you can make your team feel more engaged and motivated. You’ll find plenty of advice for creating the sort of workplace culture that prioritizes a good work/life balance for your entire team.


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Katrina Bennett People Director at edays
June 7, 2019

Katrina is edays' own People Director with significant UK and international experience in delivering people strategy and value-adding HR solutions across a range of organisations and sectors (including Arriva, Boots, Rolls Royce, the utility and charity sectors). Katrina has over 20 years of experience in Human Resources and is CIPD qualified.