30 August 2016

Can tired workers be productive workers?

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Sleep. It should be such a simple thing. We do it every day and all it takes to do it is lying down and closing your eyes.

Yet if the Internet is to believed, it’s not simple at all. A Google search for “how to sleep better” yields 317 million results. A seemingly endless list of articles and blogs offer tips for falling asleep quickly, sleeping longer and getting better quality sleep. Clearly it’s something we as a society struggle with. The Guardian perhaps puts it best, saying we are in the midst of an “exhaustion epidemic”.

This is an issue, because the benefits of sleep, and the problems caused by not getting enough, are well documented. According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, being awake for 17 hours is equivalent to having a blood alcohol rating of 0.05. Safety and Health Wellbeing Magazine reports “inadequate sleep can affect workers’ ability to remain healthy and perform their work safely – and in safety-sensitive positions, can even put others in harm’s way.” 

Business Insider reports that sleep increases productivity at work, reduces the likelihood of making risky financial decisions and can even make you more articulate.

My first job when I left high school was as a wardsman at a large private hospital in Sydney. Any hospital worker knows the hours can be gruelling. It wasn’t unusual for me to work from 7am until 11pm, then back it up with another 7am start. It’s just part of the culture, and it definitely took its toll on workers after a while. This job helped me appreciate the importance of a good night’s sleep.

Recently I’ve taken on a new job which has driven this message home even more: I became a parent for the first time. My beautiful baby daughter is an absolutely joy and already I couldn’t imagine life without her. I will admit, however, I miss the sleep. It’s been at least six months since I slept through the night, and I’ve experienced a new level of tiredness I didn’t know existed.

Of course, this is something I expected, but I didn’t account for how difficult it would be not just to get up and go to the office every morning, but to maintain productivity and keep performing to the best of my ability. It’s not easy to do while sleep deprived. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still hitting my KPIs and haven’t had any complaints from my manager, but there are days it’s a real struggle.
I’m not alone in this.

One parent in my LinkedIn network spoke about her efforts to remain productive and clear headed at work after her daughter was born.

“I tried as much as possible to get out of the office for at least 15 mins each day to recharge the batteries. A simple walk to get lunch or a coffee, or even having a meeting over coffee out of the office helped,” she said.

Another spoke about the strategies he and his partner employed when they became parents.

“For us the key was being clear on sharing night time duties. We took turns at parental leave (six months each). So the non-working parent would do Monday-Thursday night as the parent getting up at night, the working parent did Friday-Sunday night. Not perfect, but helped get through the day,” he said.

I know parents aren’t the only ones who feel tired at work. In fact, the Huffington Post reported 76 per cent of workers feel tired most days of the week. That’s a huge majority of workers who aren’t as productive or effective as they could be – clearly something workplaces need to work on.

Christian Berechree joined Akolade’s production team in May 2016. He has a Bachelor of Media and Music and a Masters in Journalism.

Christian is a musical theatre geek and a new dad, and he’ll happily spend hours telling you about either or both of those things.

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