Last week, Greece and its creditors reached a re-financing deal that stopped the deeply indebted European nation from defaulting on its loans and plunging the continent, and perhaps even the world, into economic uncertainty.
However, to get that deal done – a massive $100-billion bailout – European leaders had to endure an extraordinary, stressful, 17-hour negotiating session, one that started on Sunday July 12 and ended well into Monday morning.
Observers were quick to note that there should be a measure of concern whenever important people deprive themselves of sleep to accomplish important goals. “Greece and its eurozone creditors have reached a deal after all-night talks,” The Guardian newspaper asked in an online story, “but can we trust the decisions and deals of sleep-deprived politicians?”
The venerable Guardian was right to bring up the issue of sleep deprivation. Increasingly, research is showing that a lack of sleep can lead to lost productivity, impaired decision making and illness. In the worst manifestations, sleep deprivation has been a major factor in many of the world’s most horrific accidents and disasters.
In a 2006 National Institutes of Health report on sleep deprivation and disorders, researchers found that a lack of adequate sleep was a factor in the nuclear reactor meltdowns at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, the grounding of the Star Princess cruise ship and the Exxon Valdez oil tanker, and also the chemical plant accident in Bhopal, India.
With increasing research, and a litany of tragic outcomes, you would think that the average worker and their employers would have more than enough motivation to undertake policies and procedures aimed at ensuring everyone was getting adequate sleep. Unfortunately, the opposite seems to be true.
According to a Lee Hecht Harrison survey released in April, 85 percent of employees reported losing sleep due to work-related stress. The survey involved interviews with 714 workers throughout the United States.
The implications of all this lost, or poor quality sleep are pretty clear. But what can employers do about it?
Jim Greenway, LHH executive vice president, said managing work-related stress is the key for organizations interested in helping their employees get a good night’s sleep. “It’s imperative that managers are watching and listening for cues that might signal if stress is impacting the health and performance of their employees,” Greenway said.
Strategies for managing stress could involve learning tools that help employees manage and bounce back from stressful experiences. To be able to do that, employees must be able to build personal resilience, which will require better responses to change and tapping into support resources offered through the workplace.
Ultimately, organizations may have to undertake more dramatic strategies to help employees manage stress. Obviously, some situations – like the Greek debt crisis – are inherently stressful. However, there are many things that organizations can do to manage more normal work situations.
Long working hours are frequently cited as a major cause of work-related stress. Some organizations may have to institute scheduled breaks for walking or relaxing. Or consider curfews on work-related tasks such as email.
“The important thing is to make sure employees have adequate time to decompress,” Greenway said, “so they come to work healthy, energized and at the top of their game.