Sleep deprivation among Australian workers is costing the nation’s economy more than $26.2 billion per year, with employers wearing nearly $7 billion in direct costs each year, according to research published this week by Deloitte Access Economics and the Sleep Health Foundation.
This figure is coupled with an estimated $40.1 billion in personal wellbeing costs, and the the report estimates the total cost of Aussies’ inadequate sleep is upwards of $66 billion each year, with an estimated four in ten Australians experiencing “some form of inadequate sleep”.
Men and women between the ages of 30 and 50 are most likely to experience an insufficient amount or quality of sleep each night, and a consistent reduction in quality and length of sleep is likely to directly affect the productivity of workers, according to the report.
“Lack of sleep substantially reduces workplace productivity through absenteeism and presenteeism — reduced working days and reduced productivity while at work,” the report reads.
“Primary impacts on work include reduced chance of employment, early retirement, or exit from the workforce due to premature mortality. As such, inadequate sleep may impose a range of productivity costs which affect not only individuals, but also their employers and government.”
A total of $17.9 billion was the estimated losses caused by drops in productivity, including the impact of workers taking days off and employees attending work but operating at a lower level of productivity due to a lack of sleep.
The direct cost to employers is estimated to be nearly $7 billion, with the report stating those costs stem from “costs of reduced productivity while at work (presenteeism) and additional paid days off work (absenteeism)”.
While the focus of the report largely revolved around employees and their potential lack of sleep, business owners themselves should note poor quality sleep can also affect them, leading to similar drops in productivity, or even more serious mental health issues.
Should you be making sure staff get more sleep?
Keeping track of your employees’ sleeping habits is not the responsibility of an employer, believes director at HR Staff’n’Stuff Deborah Peppard, but for business owners wanting to get the best out of employees, a general focus on well-being can go a long way.
“Employers can implement a range of strategies for employees to assist them in regulating their lifestyle. I think as a country, we’re quite unhealthy and a lack of sleep is contributing to that,” Peppard tells SmartCompany.
“An employer’s responsibility is to help workers be healthy and productive at work, and that can mean making recommendations about the whole of their life. The lines are now blurred between work and personal time, there’s no use pretending they’re not.”
Strategies Peppard recommends include providing flexible working hours “wherever possible” for night-owl workers who might prefer to roll into the office late. However, she stresses to make sure this works for the business.
“The workplace can promote healthy lifestyle messages through things like a weekly healthy lunch for all staff where they come together and share meals and recipes,” she says.
“Also, things like walking groups or walking meetings. In some cases, I’ve even seen businesses with quiet rooms where employees can go and take a 15-minute nap.”
US business owner Mark Bertolini took managing his staffs’ sleep to the next level last year, announcing a policy in 2016 that meant if his staff could prove they had seven hours or more or sleep for 20 nights in a row, he would give them $US25 ($31) a night, up to $US500 a year.
“Being present in the workplace and making better decisions has a lot to do with our business fundamentals. You can’t be prepared if you’re half-asleep,” Bertolini said at the time.
“If we can make … business fundamentals better by investing in our people, then that’s going to show up in our revenue. It’s going to show up in our bottom line … quarter after quarter, year after year.”
While Peppard advises a more passive approach from business owners, she acknowledges employers shouldn’t hesitate to address issues directly with employees if a drop in productivity is seen.
“If a business is having an issue with performance and productivity for an employee, asking them in a on- on-one situation what the issue is and how you can help can do wonders,” she says.
“Ultimately it is the employee’s responsibility though, but business owners have the right to address and encourage employees to seek out help to regulate their performance.”