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Workplace Sleep Stigma Creating A Nation Of Unproductive ‘Insombies’

Press release   •   Oct 08, 2019 08:30 BST

  • Three in four employees in the UK suffer persistent sleep problems
  • “Sleep stigma” rife in businesses and exacerbating UK productivity problems
  • Yet almost all business leaders view sleep as a matter for the bedroom not the boardroom
  • Call for Government to appoint ‘sleep tsar’ to improve Britain’s sleep health

Work-related sleep issues are creating a nation of unproductive “insombies” according to new research out today. It found three in four employees[1] suffer from persistently poor sleep, causing weaker employee performance, lower output and more frequent sick days at a time when Britain’s productivity remains in the doldrums.

The report, titled Ending Sleep Stigma in the Workplace, from Loughborough University and commissioned by bed retailer Dreams, reveals the scale of Britain’s sleep deficit and its impact on British Business. In addition to three quarters[2] of the working population suffering persistently poor sleep, over half (54%) are unable to stay awake in the day.

At a time when UK productivity is at just a quarter of the level before the financial crisis[3], the research lays bare how poor sleep is reducing employee outputs: a quarter (25%) say their sleep problems mean they are not able to complete work they had planned, as it makes it difficult for them to work fast and maintain the quality of their work[4]. At the same time, employees are, on average, taking two sick days a year to catch up on sleep.[5]

Despite work-related stress being the single biggest cause of poor sleep and the detrimental business impact of sleep-deprived employees, companies do not see sleep as a priority. Almost two thirds of business leaders (63%) say sleep is the sole responsibility of the individual and more than a third (39%) agree there is nothing they can do to help their employees’ sleep health. Just 3% of companies have a sleep policy in place, despite guidance released from Public Health England last year that businesses need to do more to improve their employees’ sleep.

The problem is being further exacerbated as employees feel unable to raise their sleep difficulties with their bosses. Over two thirds (69%) have never spoken about it to their employers for fear it would hold them back in their careers or increase scrutiny of their work[6]. A quarter (26%) say they think their boss wouldn’t do anything about it, and just as many are worried colleagues wouldn’t understand the problem[7].

Despite the concerning status quo, the report identifies a clear opportunity for businesses to prioritise sleep health for the benefit of their employees’ wellbeing and their bottom-line:

  • Productivity: One in three (34%) people feel more productive and achieve more at work (39%) after a good night’s sleep. Two in five (44%) say being less tired would enable them to do their job better. A quarter (28%) say it is easier to complete tasks more quickly, and as many say the work they did was more accurate.[8]
  • Talent attraction and retention: There is a clear appetite among employees for their companies to prioritise programmes to support better sleep health. More than a third (34%) say they would welcome or value initiatives that reduce the impact of working life on their sleep. As many as a third (33%) say they would even show more loyalty to a company that took action to support their sleep health.
  • Job satisfaction: Almost a quarter (22%) said they enjoyed their work more and felt greater job satisfaction.
  • Company culture: A fifth (17%) say they have more positive interactions with colleagues.

The report concludes that an insidious workplace “sleep stigma” is rife across businesses and is exacerbating employee sleep and productivity problems. It sets out a Sleep Stigma Action Plan: Tangible actions for government and businesses to end workplace sleep stigma and tackle the chronic sleep and productivity problems:

For government:

For businesses: Create a sleep supportive workplace culture by:

  • Normalising conversations about sleep in the workplace, for example in appraisals
  • Provide sleep education for managers so they can better recognise and actively support employees to improved sleep health
  • Introduce a sleep tracking and education programme for all employees
  • Provide employees with a switch off mechanism so they do not take work home with them
  • Facilitate physical activity and exercise

Mike Logue, CEO Dreams: “This report shows that Britain has a chronic sleep deficit and it is exacerbating our productivity crisis. Yet sleep is not being taken seriously. At a time of unprecedented economic uncertainty, we need the government and businesses to put an end to workplace sleep stigma so more people and businesses can thrive.”

Dr Pixie McKenna, GP and Sleep Expert for Dreams: “Sleep is fundamental to good physical health and wellbeing – yet the significant majority of people simply aren’t getting adequate sleep. With people in Britain spending more time at work than any other European nation, it’s no wonder our work experiences and places are having such a huge impact on our sleep health. We all need to make sleep a priority for the benefit of both our personal and our professional lives..”

In response the report’s findings, Dreams has launched its Sleep Action Plan to help support its 2,000 employees across the UK to sleep better. The programme Includes:

  • -Sleep health training for managers, delivered by experts
  • -Conversations about sleep to be included in annual reviews
  • -Access to a 24-hour sleep helpline for all staff
  • -Sleep surgeries with Dr Pixie McKenna for all staff, giving them bespoke sleep guidance
  • -Sleep trackers for all staff to build understanding about their sleep patterns and how to improve it
  • -Sleep-supportive culture, including discouraging out-of-hours working

[1] 78% of workers say they experience ongoing periods of poor sleep> Employee Survey, Atomik

[2] 78% of workers say they experience ongoing periods of poor sleep>Employee Survey, Atomik

[3] ONS UK productivity update; October-December 2018

[4] 20-25%. Loughborough University analysis of 1,400 nights of sleep data captured during the Dreams Sleep Better Study

[5] Consumer Survey, Atomik

[6] 21% say they don’t talk about sleep related problems due to fear it would hold them back in their career; 19% say they don’t talk about sleep related problems at work for fear it would increase scrutiny on their work > Employee Survey Atomik

[7] 24% say they are worried colleagues wouldn’t understand their sleep problems > Employee survey, Atomik

[8] 23% say they can do their work more accurately > Employee Survey, Atomik

About Dreams:

Established in 1985, Dreams is the UK’s number one specialist bed retailer.

Headquartered at ‘Bedquarters’ in High Wycombe, and with 1,850 employees across the UK, Dreams sells 10,000 mattresses, bases and headboards per week to customers nationwide through its store network of 190 sites and online.

Dreams is a proud British business, committed to continue making its products in this country, as it does now at the Dreams Bed Factory in Oldbury. At the factory, Dreams manufactures over 200,000 mattresses a year and over 160,000 beds. These products are then distributed via nine dedicated delivery service to customers anywhere in the country via a fleet of over 100 Dreams delivery vans.

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