How to Create a Workplace Culture That Values Sleep

Quality sleep is critical to employee well-being, but many employers take a hands-off approach. Here’s how you can support employees in getting more rest.

a woman sleeping in bed with her head on the pillow

The Calm Team

7 min read

Sleep is essential to work, but employees aren’t getting nearly enough rest. Almost half (48%) of Americans feel sleepy at least two days a week, and 28% feel sleepy at least five days a week. The result: headaches, irritability, and an overall decline in well-being. 

Add a heavy workload to the mix and employees can suffer physically, mentally, and professionally. Poor sleep and overwork lock employees into an unhealthy cycle that can damage their health and even shorten their lifespans. It’s employers’ responsibility to make changes that break that cycle, so employees can show up to work healthy and well-rested.

Why sleep matters in the workplace

Sleep is the foundation of employee wellness in the workplace. A good night’s rest—or lack thereof—can affect every aspect of an employee’s life. Here’s how: 

Health and safety

Sleep and overall health go hand in hand. Insufficient sleep can increase your risk for diabetes, cardiovascular problems, and mental health conditions. Sleep also affects your ability to function at a job and perform work safely. When you’re sleepy or overtired, you move slower, your attention drifts more easily, and you can suffer from headaches or brain fog. As a result, accidents, injuries, and poor decision-making are more likely. 

That’s why for many workers, sleep plays a life-or-death role. Employees like healthcare professionals, air traffic controllers, transportation drivers, sanitation workers, and police officers are in especially compromising positions; if they’re sleepy on the job, they can jeopardize their safety and the safety of those around them. 

Job effectiveness and productivity 

Without enough sleep, your cognitive abilities can decline, making it harder to think critically, solve problems, be creative, and make intelligent decisions. If you can’t focus or remember important details at work, not only do you lose efficiency—your job performance also suffers. On the flip side, when you’re well-rested you tend to execute tasks more efficiently, think sharper, and stay engaged.  

Mood and mental health

Sleep has a powerful effect on your everyday moods and overall mental well-being. A lack of sleep can make you more susceptible to mood swings and irritability, while longer-term sleep deprivation can set you up for more serious issues like depression and burnout. When you score quality sleep, however, you tend to have an easier time navigating problems and difficult situations in the workplace. 

Are your employees sleeping enough? 

Conventional wisdom says eight hours of sleep is the gold standard, but the reality is that everyone has different sleep needs. Health issues, neurodiversity needs, family dynamics, and living accommodations can all play a role in how much sleep individual employees need to thrive—as well as how much sleep they’re actually getting.

To gauge how rested your employees are, start by reviewing recent research. In our workplace mental health survey, we found that nine out of 10 employees don’t feel rested enough, and eight out of 10 have a difficult time falling and staying asleep. What’s more, 87% of employees feel stressed, 75% can’t control their worrying, and 70% feel down or depressed—all of which are experiences and states of being that can contribute to poor sleep. 

Here are a few additional ways to tell if your employees are scoring enough sleep:

Conduct a survey

Send an anonymous email survey to employees to ask about their sleep habits. Instead of inquiring about the number of hours employees sleep on average, focus on asking questions that give you insight into how employees feel. Think: “How often do you feel sleepy at work?” and “How often do you feel too stressed or anxious to sleep?” You can use a one through five scale so employees can rank their responses from “never” to “almost always.”

Assess your workplace sleep risks

Certain workplaces are more conducive to sleep than others. If your company requires early or late shifts, regularly asks employees to work overtime, or holds obligatory work events in the evenings or on weekends, you have greater workplace sleep risks than an organization that confines work hours to daytime. 

Workplace culture also influences sleep. Heavy workloads and limited flexibility can contribute to poor employee sleep, as can more insidious workplace problems like racism, discrimination, and bullying. 

Check employees for signs of sleepiness and fatigue

Teach managers and company leaders what sleep deficiency looks like, and tell them to be mindful of significant changes in employees’ day-to-day behaviors and attitudes. Here are some common signs of sleep deficiency at work: 

  • Difficulty focusing or recalling details
  • Constant yawning
  • Irritability 
  • Physical exhaustion (like poor posture, slumping at a desk, needing to take frequent breaks)
  • Missed days at work

How to create a workplace culture that values sleep

Changing your organization’s culture to support sleep takes time and effort, but it’s a worthwhile investment in the health and effectiveness of your employees. Here are five key steps to take: 

1. Dismantle hustle culture

The first step to promoting better sleep awareness and health is setting your workplace up for success. That means adjusting policies and changing attitudes that—directly or indirectly— encourage overwork and amplify stress.  

Here are just a handful of ideas:

  • Teach managers and supervisors workload management skills.
  • Find ways to limit the amount of overtime employees work. Discourage after-hours work, cap overtime per pay period, or outsource certain tasks. 
  • Encourage company leaders to set boundaries with their work hours as an example. 
  • Recognize employees who are trying to improve their work-life balance. Spotlight employee stories in email newsletters or shout out people during team meetings. 
  • Discourage sending work emails or taking calls after hours. 

2. Introduce more flexibility for employees 

Flexibility at work has the potential to unlock better sleep for employees in all industries and positions. When people have more options over how, when, and where they work, they can adopt schedules and habits that allow for better work-life balance and more downtime. 

For some employees, getting more sleep could be as simple as working from home twice a week and sleeping in instead of commuting. Other employees might prefer to start their work day earlier, so they have more time to unwind before bed. 

Depending on your company’s organizational structure and customer needs, you may not be able to offer employees full flexibility, but there are still solutions that give them more freedom. Try: 

  • Letting employees have more choice over their shifts
  • Giving employees flexible arrival and departure times
  • Letting employees work from home 
  • Offering flexible or custom working hours 
  • Encouraging employees to take breaks throughout the day

3. Educate employees about the importance of sleep

Some employees don’t know how vital sleep is, and others don’t have tools to improve their sleep. You can educate and support employees by holding a virtual or onsite sleep seminar. Discuss how sleep impacts job performance and health, the various factors that can inhibit sleep, and what good sleep hygiene looks like. 

You can also create and distribute a handbook that shares smart sleep practices and resources for getting help with other issues. Anxiety, depression, substance abuse issues, and family stressors can all affect an employee’s sleep. 

4. Enhance the workplace environment

The environment where employees work has the potential to either facilitate or inhibit sleep. For example, research shows that natural light can help regulate your circadian rhythm, which can lead to better sleep.   

To make positive changes, start by evaluating your workplace environment. Do employees have a clean, orderly place to work? If they work physically demanding jobs, is there a place where they can rest and recharge? How comfortable is the office furniture? Here are some ways to make the work environment more sleep-friendly:

  • Designate a quiet area for employees to meditate, nap, or rest with their eyes closed throughout the day. 
  • Reconfigure the layout of furniture or equipment to let in more natural light. 
  • Use overhead lights that mimic daytime light
  • Set up a few chairs or benches outside where employees can get fresh air and Vitamin D during the day. 
  • Invest in ergonomic office furniture so employees are more physically comfortable. 
  • Provide a few healthy, energizing snacks that employees can grab from the workplace common area (think: fruit, nuts, yogurt, hummus, or green tea).
  • Give computer-dependent employees tools (like blue-light-blocking software or glasses) to help reduce the amount of stimulating blue light they look at. 
  • Give remote workers a stipend to improve their home workspace. 

5. Encourage and celebrate employees taking PTO

To get better sleep on a regular basis, employees need time to recharge and relax away from the pressures and demands of work. They also need support and encouragement from their managers and employers to do it. 

Employees should feel comfortable going on vacation or taking time off when they’re sick or burned out—but many don’t. Three in four full-time employees said they decided not to take a sick day or mental health day when they should have, and one in four employees feel like they’re letting their team down when they take vacation.

You can encourage employees to take paid time off (PTO) by: 

  • Enforcing a strict “no working when sick” policy 
  • Implementing organization-wide vacation or day-off shutdowns
  • Incentivizing employees to use their PTO by offering bonuses or eliminating rollover plans
  • Supporting employees with their workloads and responsibilities when they do take time off
  • Normalizing breaks from work by talking about vacations and time off during meetings and team check-ins
  • Encouraging managers and team leaders to take vacation and sick days
  • Giving employees extra sick days, designated mental health days, or vacation stipends

It’s time to offer your employees benefits that encourage restful sleep. Calm’s robust library of sleep resources—from bedtime stories to nature sounds—can help workers in every field sleep deeper and stress less. Book a demo for more information. 

Help employees stress less, sleep better, and build more resilience with Calm Business

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