Harvard Business Review takes a look at how sleep deprivation can be a strong inhibitor of workplace performance.
- Sleep problems predate employment. A great deal of psychological research suggests that prior to the well-documented impairments that poor sleep has on job performance, sleep disturbances are rather prevalent during the school and university years. These studies — and related research establishing strong causal links between sleep problems and clinical problems even during childhood — suggest that school and academic performance are significantly lower in students who suffer from sleep problems, and that such students exist in large numbers. Since educational attainment, including how well students do in their school and academic exams, is a major gateway to subsequent employment — even when it arguably shouldn’t be — there are clearly long-term consequences of lacking a healthy sleep routine, including a high career cost. Interestingly, meta-analytic reviews suggest that simply delaying the starting time of classes can lead to significant improvements in students’ sleeping patterns, presumably because young people are naturally inclined — or enticed — to stay up late and sleep later.
- Sleep boosts employee engagement. There is a multibillion dollar industry devoted to boosting organizations’ engagement levels — the degree of enthusiasm, satisfaction, and productivity employees and managers show at work. Although much of this money goes to improving office designs, cafeteria food, and person-job fit — and that’s ok — there is no comparable awareness among firms of the importance that sleep quality has as a driver of employee engagement. Importantly, unlike many drivers of engagement, including the competence levels of your boss (see next point), sleep is often in your control, and there are clear rewards for improving your sleep patterns.
- As always, leadership plays a big role. Whereas incompetent leaders will tend to stress and alienate their employees, ruining their quality of sleep, good leadership will mitigate some of the detrimental effects that poor sleep habits have on performance. For this to occur, leaders must not just be competent, they must also ensure that they are not sleep-deprived themselves, and that they avoid inconsistent patterns of sleep. Even decent leaders are more likely to engage in unethical or abusive behavior if they are sleep-deprived. Unsurprisingly, there appear to be multiplicative effects of both having good quality sleep and good quality leaders — and lacking both can be particularly destructive.