In today’s business climate, HR professionals are responsible for much more than hiring candidates, managing conflicts and enforcing labor laws; they are the lifeblood of an organization, often helping to define its culture, improve its efficiencies and foster a healthy workplace environment. As such, HR professionals are also responsible for the often nebulous task of employee engagement. As anyone in the field can attest, engagement goes far beyond creating a “fun” culture. It involves everything from evaluating job fit and increasing productivity to promoting mental health and supporting physical wellness, even outside the office.
Is there a silver-bullet solution to employee engagement? Of course not. But there is a single element that, when prioritized, can help to address a myriad of engagement and productivity issues, not to mention drastically reduce healthcare costs. That fundamental element is: sleep. That’s right — it’s time to take a closer look at employee sleep health.
It’s easy to make the connection between sleep and productivity and safety. But there’s more: Research has proven that sleep impacts everything from diabetes and heart disease to mental health and happiness.
Think of a car. When regularly maintained, a car can last up to 200,000 miles. When that same car is cared for improperly and inconsistently, it is bound to present major issues, incur costly repairs and expire long before the 200,000 mile mark.
No, we’re not cars, but the principle is the same. Our cognitive, physical and emotional abilities are directly related to the amount, quality and timing of our sleep. Waking up “refreshed” from a good night’s sleep is more than a feeling; it is a signal from our central nervous system. During sleep, we restore our cognitive function by repackaging neurochemicals, repairing our organ systems, eliminating waste products that accumulate in the brain and body, and resetting our circadian rhythm for wakefulness. All these activities are dependent on healthy sleep.
Over time, a lack of sleep takes a toll on health, resilience, productivity and longevity. In fact, healthcare costs for people with poor sleep are nearly three times higher than their counterparts due to the increased likelihood for chronic disease. Not only do these individuals cost employers more in healthcare, they also accrue more than double the amount of lost workdays than other employees. Physical effects aside, long-term sleep issues have also been connected with impairments in decision-making, moral judgement and quality of life, all of which affect workplace culture.
Benefits programs have come a long way over the last decade, and it is not uncommon for organizations to prioritize wellness in some form. For example, many of today’s employers offer lifestyle programs to promote regular exercise, educate on nutrition, support stress management or help employees quit smoking — all designed to reduce, prevent or improve chronic conditions like diabetes, asthma, heart disease, depression and cancer (and, in turn, lower healthcare costs).
A simple shift of focus from wellness to well-being can change the mindset from preventing future disease to sustaining current health. The term “well-being” encompasses more than physical health; it also includes mental, emotional, social and financial health, which together create one’s quality of life. Sleep is an important factor to each of these facets of well-being. Supplementing existing programs with sleep treatment can generate tangible gains in productivity and engagement, while also reducing healthcare costs and absenteeism.
But as HR and Benefits professionals know all too well, access to resources is nothing without engagement. If no one participates, no one wins. It is important to find a program that not only addresses the whole gamut of sleep health issues beyond just sleep apnea, but also provides robust data that lets employees see the whole picture, with a support structure that focuses on treatment success and corresponding outcomes. Only then will employers see the maximum return on investment in terms of costs and — yes — even employee engagement.
It’s time to sleep easy knowing one’s employees are doing the same.
John Letter, president and chief operating officer of SleepCharge, a platform by Nox Health that connects individuals with the right treatment, testing, diagnosis and physicians to address their specific sleep issues, as well as ongoing support for long-term treatment