Spotting the signs of sleep deprivation
As is often the case in life, signs of sleep deprivation vary from the obvious to the subtle.
Obvious signs include employees literally falling asleep at their desks or at least exhibiting behaviors which are clearly recognizable as signs of tiredness, such as frequent yawning.
Less obvious signs may include general lethargy, inability to focus - especially on detailed work - and a tendency to be easily irritated. Erratic punctuality and excessive caffeine consumption can also be indicators, but these have to be judged relative to an employee’s normal standards.
How to act on concerns
Anything which impacts either an employee’s performance or their impact on others in the workplace is a legitimate cause for concern and hence not only do employers have the right to act on what they have observed, they very probably have an obligation to do so.
That said, there are three key points to keep in mind when addressing the situation:
- Politeness costs nothing and can pay dividends in good employer/employee relations.
- Sleep-deprivation issues can often be temporary, in which case resolving them may simply be a matter of recognizing that life happens and showing as much flexibility as possible to accommodate that (making adjustments to work processes can often be a whole lot more cost-effective and less hassle than finding a new employee).
- Before you start looking into an employee’s behavior, it’s probably a good idea to take a good, hard look at your own and ask yourself, honestly, if there’s anything you’re doing which could be contributing to the situation.
Addressing workplace issues which can lead to employees not getting enough sleep
There are a lot of ways in which workplace issues could lead to employees not getting enough sleep. For the most part, however, these factors can be placed into two broad groups:
Management issues is anything to do with the policies and practices under which employees work.
Although the most obvious issue is likely to be workload and anything relating to it (such as poorly-designed user interfaces in key programs and/or lack of training), there are actually plenty of other ways management can influence how well an employee sleeps at night.
For example, are they doing a good job of dealing with any issues between staff? Are they putting pressure on employees to come into work even when they really should be off sick?
If your office has harsh artificial lights, limited daylight, heavily-recycled air, poor temperature control, excessive noise and/or a caffeine-orientated working culture, then you may well find that it harms your employees’ physical and mental wellbeing and hence their ability to get a decent night’s sleep. There may be a limit to what you can do with your building but see what improvements you can make.