Are you a zombie employee — unproductive, stressed out, and disengaged? You’d have plenty of company. More than a third of American adults fail to regularly get at least seven hours of shut-eye. In an always-on culture where employees sleep with their phones, fatigue is the new normal.
Companies, aware that sleep deprivation costs the US economy more than $400 billion each year in lost productivity, are trying to change that, says Debra Wein, CEO and founder of Wellness Workdays, a Hingham company whose offerings include sleep quality assessment programs. She says her company, which has worked with Columbia Construction and Cape Cod Healthcare, has seen a jump in requests for sleep-related seminars and workshops in the last two years. “Companies are realizing that sleep is a key issue for employee mood, productivity, memory, and engagement, especially as technology and greater demands make it harder to break away,” Wein says.
Not logging on or sending that last e-mail — or staying up for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert — takes effort, says Joanne MacInnis, president of Aberdeen Home Care in Danvers, which provides round-the-clock care for patients who need it. MacInnis makes a point of going to bed around 10 every night, with a specific ritual that includes cuddling with her bichon frise and placing a moonstone gem over her heart to invoke calm and reflection.
MacInnis says she is committed to modeling good sleep habits for her employees, since home health aides tend to work back-to-back shifts for multiple agencies to make ends meet — sometimes working 36 hours straight. In job interviews, she emphasizes getting enough sleep, and during check-ins with her employees talks about her own sleep habits and reminds them of the importance of being alert. “It would be inauthentic to tell my workers not to work ’til they’re exhausted if I don’t do the same thing,” MacInnis says.
She probably has their attention — a third of US workers crave more rest, the highest percentage among workers in eight nations surveyed by the Workforce Institute at Kronos, a Lowell-based workforce-management software firm. Many of us sleep less than we should, says Lawrence Epstein, program director of the recently launched sleep medicine fellowship program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “Most people don’t prioritize sleep because they think of sleep as disposable — they don’t recognize the importance of it,” says Epstein, who is also president of the Welltrinsic Sleep Network, an online sleep wellness program that lets workers track their sleep patterns, create a sleep diary, and get sleep coaching support. But even with his background, when he looked recently at his own sleep patterns, he found he needed to reduce his screen time and go to bed earlier.
Some companies promote siestas and have installed sleep pods — with special beds, music, lights, and vibrations designed to induce sleep. Others prefer employees to get their rest at home. “We want employees to have work-life balance and get out of the office and get a good night’s sleep in their own beds,” says Julie Paris, manager of wellness programs at Akamai Technologies, an Internet services and technology company in Cambridge.
The company provides regular seminars on sleep, both on-site and through webinars, and rewards employees who track their sleep, giving them points that can be redeemed for gift cards.
Boston-based ezCater, an online business catering service, has wellness and mothering rooms where employees can meditate, pray, pump breast milk — or take cat naps. And Justice Resource Institute, a Needham nonprofit whose offerings include outpatient mental health services for disadvantaged youth and adults, designates on-call staff to handle overnight calls and e-mail, so everyone else can sleep. Salesforce.com, meanwhile, a San Francisco software company with several Massachusetts locations, has partnered with sleep experts at Sleepio, a digital sleep improvement program that helps people address factors associated with insomnia, such as worry and other negative emotions.
Of course, embracing the value of sleep — especially during work hours — may not come naturally for some organizations. “It’s a culture change,” says Mikhail Krymov, cofounder and CEO of Sleepbox, a Boston startup that installs sleeping pods in public spaces, mainly airports. “It’s not just about napping, but also involves privacy and trust in employees.”
Employees, too, have to have some trust. Akamai’s Jade Longstaff, a marketing production manager, took a company-sponsored class called GREEN — Get Renewable Energy Every Night — because she was having trouble falling asleep at night. After the class, she decided to stop staying up late watching Modern Family and The Goldbergs. Instead, “I started reading books, limiting screen time, and created routines to help me fall asleep. It improved my sleep drastically,” says Longstaff, who also stopped sleeping in on the weekends after learning it’s better to have a consistent schedule.
Still, “If I’m working on a priority project and that means staying on a call from Asia till 10 p.m., there’s no way I’m going to tell my manager, ‘I can’t do that, it would mess with my sleep,’ ” Longstaff says. “She’d say, ‘Yes, your sleep is important, but I still need you to get this project done.’ ”
Cindy Atoji Keene is a freelance writer in Lexington. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.