What role does sleep play in increasing employee productivity? Here are four strategies that can help your team rest well.

Inadequate sleep may be dramatically reducing your employee productivity, performance and even attendance. Fortune estimates that the annual cost of employee lack of sleep may be as high as $411 billion per year in lost productivity — and cause a staggering 1.2 million out-of-office days for workers annually. If your organization is concerned with employee productivity, you should take a closer look at whether your team is getting adequate rest.

Are We Really That Sleep Deprived?

According to the CDC, adults need at least seven hours of sleep each night. In addition, it's not just the hours of sleep that matter — it's also the quality. Being sleep deprived can have serious consequences on productivity. Author Alex Soojung-Kim Pang wrote for U.C. Berkeley that a sleep deficit of just one hour leads to a decline in work productivity and performance.

McKinsey researchers agree, noting that sleep mismanagement has serious consequences, from poor decision-making to lower energy. They write, "In an increasingly hyperconnected world, in which many companies now expect their employees to be on call and to answer emails 24/7, [sleep] is also an important organizational topic that requires specific and urgent attention."

McKinsey goes on to note that adequate sleep helps to enhance creativity, concentration, decision-making and even productive emotional engagement. If all these areas suffer when employees are sleep deprived, this could quickly translate into an issue that impacts your organization's bottom line.

What's Sleep Deprivation Costing Your Business?

In an interview with the Financial Times, Lawrence Epstein, director of the sleep medicine fellowship program at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and an instructor at Harvard Medical School, notes, "The cost of insomnia in the U.S. is estimated to be over $100 [billion] when you add in reduced productivity, absenteeism and presenteeism [when employees are unproductive at work]."

Research from two economists, published in a working paper by the London School of Economics Centre for Economic Performance, notes that certain populations — such as working parents — may be even more affected. As reported by Quartz, improving a mother's sleep by just one hour, for example, could increase the following:

  • "Employment by 4 percentage points"
  • "The number of hours worked by 7 percent"
  • "Household income by 10-11 percent"

In other words, you really can't afford to overlook sleep when you're trying to improve employee productivity.

So if this information on sleep is so widely recognized, the question becomes: How can HR leaders use this critical intelligence to help their teams get more rest — and in turn, improve workplace productivity, engagement, creativity and more?

Strategies for Helping Your Team with Better Sleep

Incorporate sleep training into wellness programs

In one survey conducted by McKinsey, 70 percent of leaders suggested that sleep training or sleep best practices should be offered in the workplace. One approach to this is integrating the content into broader wellness training. Another approach, which Forbes reports that companies such as Olympus, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Unilever are using, is to send your employees to a dedicated sleep course. Offering screenings for sleep disorders can also help reduce workplace accidents and safety concerns, says the Financial Times.

Embrace napping

Improving sleep isn't always about sleeping longer — or even better — at night. Increasingly, hosts of scientific studies show that napping is key to refreshing performance and improving productivity. According to the New York Times, a nap as brief as 20 minutes can improve your team's productivity, engagement and ability to deal with stress. Adding nap pods or quiet spaces to your office design can allow workers to quickly refresh in the middle of challenging days. International law firm White and Case joins the ranks of tech companies such as Google and Cisco in making these investments. Other strategies include building time into worker schedules to accommodate daytime rest.

Embrace Work Policies That Support Sleep

Your organization's internal culture has a significant effect on your team's ability to sleep. Are managers sending emails to team members at 11 p.m. and expecting a response? Many companies are looking at work-time limits and forbidding employees to send emails outside of work hours. France recently passed a law requiring businesses with more than 50 employees to establish policies with hours during which employees can't send or respond to emails. Business leaders are following suit: brands such as Volkswagen and Vynamic are limiting after-hours email use as well.

Use Technology to Your Advantage

An assortment of tools can also help your workforce get a better handle on their sleep. For example, certain models of fitness trackers can monitor sleep quality, and there are also apps that can be installed to automatically change screens to eliminate sleep-disrupting emanations from computers and mobile devices. Investing in these tools may provide your workers with better information about their sleep and solutions for times when lifestyle decisions, such as putting down their devices before bed, aren't feasible.

Enhancing employee productivity should be an always-on priority for organizations. By assessing whether your teams are getting enough sleep and then taking simple steps to help them rest more effectively, you should be able to both help your team feel better and give your organization a more engaged and productive workforce overall.

Tags: Learning and Development Productivity culture