A new study quantifies the financial effects on fatigued workers on U.S. businesses. The impact is enough to wipe out the current annual increase in the Gross Domestic Product.
The study by Rand Corporation says the consequences of sleep-deprivation cost U.S. businesses $411 billion a year, or 2.28% of the GDP. The increase in the U.S. GDP for 2016 is expected to be right around that same amount.
This study reports on the causes, consequences and related economic costs of insufficient sleep.
Causes are divided into three categories: lifestyle/health, personal/socio-demographic and workplace psychosocial/job.
Lifestyle causes include being overweight, lack of physical activity and mental health problems.
Providing care to family members is an example of personal factors.
There are four main workplace/job factors:
- Lack of choice in work schedule
- Unrealistic time pressures
- Irregular hours, and
- Long commutes.
This is how it translates to productivity: Workers who sleep less than six hours per day have a 2.4% higher productivity loss compared to those who get enough sleep (7-9 hours). This means a worker who sleeps less than six hours loses around six working days a year more than workers sleeping eight hours.
On an annual basis, the U.S. loses an equivalent of about 1.23 million working days, or 9.9 million working hours.
The Rand study concludes:
“Solving the problem of insufficient sleep represents a potential win-win situation for individuals, employers and the wider society.”
Recommendations for employers
What can employers do to help their employees get enough sleep?
- Recognize the importance of sleep and the employer’s role in its promotion. This might involve a cultural change for some companies such as no longer crediting people who report less sleep with greater effectiveness and work results.
- Commit to helping employees achieve better sleep. This starts with communicating the importance of sleep to the workforce, something that can be done as part of safety and wellness programs. Some companies are using newer technology to help employees such as providing wearable devices that monitor sleep-wake activity.
- Design and build brighter workspaces. Studies show working in windowless environments leads to poorer sleep quality.
- Provide facilities and amenities that help employees with their sleep hygiene. Examples: gyms, fitness tracking devices to support exercise, and using smart technology to limit blue light emissions to mitigate the adverse effects on sleep of screen time.
- Combat workplace psychosocial risks. Work to tackle workplace stressors because of the proven link between job strain and sleep disturbances. Studies also find higher levels of social support at work lead to fewer sleep disturbances. Other psychosocial factors which were also found to be associated with sleep disturbances were lack of control over work, an imbalance between effort and rewards, and bullying.
- Address physical workplace risk factors. Among the activities which have been proven to contribute to a lack of sleep: work with pesticides, exposure to vibrations and solvents, and excessive work with visual display terminals.
- Discourage prolonged use of electronic devices. The study notes, “Since one of the reasons for the increased and longer use of electronic devices is the actual or perceived need to be available for work purposes, employers are in a position to make a difference.” Example: Auto manufacturer Daimler introduced a “holiday mode” to its corporate email system, allowing employees to opt out of receiving messages when they’re not in the office.
- Minimize variability in working hours and maximize employees’ control. This includes flexible schedules and the ability to work at home when possible.