It’s a vicious cycle: Especially in competitive, ambitious workplaces, staff are constantly under pressure to work ever harder-the assumption being, that this is the only path to greater success. Yet the irony is that as people get increasingly tired, their productivity drops-meaning they have to work even harder and longer to get ahead. And don’t bother working more than 55 hours in a week: a 2014 study found that after 50 hours of work, productivity drops sharply. And people who worked 70 hours achieved virtually nothing more than those who worked 55 hours.
The problem is compounded by the fact an unrelenting pace at work and chronic exhaustion is major contributors to sleep problems-and poor sleep, in turn, leads to underperformance, costly errors, and conflicts with coworkers.
Considering all the ways in which sleep affects productivity, the fable of the two woodcutters has probably never been more timely. In fact, according to one social media survey, it’s remarkably close to the truth: the most productive 10% of employees surveyed worked for 52 minutes at a time, followed by a break of 17 minutes.
Sleep deprivation is estimated to cost American companies more than $63 billion annually in lost productivity, and research published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine narrows this down further to $3,156 per insomniac employee. So it could be said that getting plenty of rest is the simplest single way of ensuring a competitive edge.
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With increasing awareness of the relationship between sleep and productivity-not to mention safety-many industries are actively implementing safeguards to ensure workers receive the rest they need. In the US, there are regulations limiting the maximum number of hours that operators of commercial motor vehicles such as trucks and buses are allowed to spend behind the wheel. The first Hours of Service (HOS) rules were drafted in 1937, and they have undergone many revisions as the detrimental effects of fatigue and sleep deprivation have become increasingly evident.
Similarly, the issue of pilot fatigue has been examined in scientific studies and scholarly articles alike. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has made considerable efforts to limit the number of consecutive hours that pilots spend in command of an aircraft, as well as the maximum number of flying hours they undertake in any 7-day period.
The subject of self-care, especially as it applies to adequate rest, is becoming a hot topic in the corporate world. Many innovative start-ups and emerging companies seem to be making remarkable progress and rising to meteoric success against a backdrop of well-established corporations that are struggling to keep up. Does this new trend of valuing the happiness and well-being of workers in an organization have a key role to play? Is the traditional workplace culture of struggling through long hours rather than being smart about how we work, finally starting to go out of vogue? Are companies starting to re-evaluate their approach towards creating an effective workforce?
Perhaps it’s high time more of us followed these examples and made it a higher priority to sharpen that proverbial ax!