Should the Boss Send You to Bed?

To the news that one-third of U.S. workers are chronically sleep-deprived, some of us were surprised: Only a third?

Getting enough sleep seems to be a nearly universal challenge for today’s workforce, especially in the world of always-connected knowledge work. The Wall Street Journal cites research from Harvard Medical School suggesting that “40.6 million American workers, or 30% of the civilian workforce, don’t get enough rest” and that “sleep deprivation costs U.S. companies $63.2 billion in lost productivity per year.” Among the more obvious effects of sleep deprivation: short tempers, extra time spent surfing online and simple “presenteeism”—showing up but doing nothing.

Peter Drucker considered the physiological dimension of work to be critical yet often overlooked. For people who are productive on erratic schedules—perhaps ones full of catnaps rather than long periods of sleep—managers might be wise to try to accommodate them when possible.

The human being is not a machine and does not work like a machine,” Drucker wrote in People and Performance. “Each individual has his or her own pattern of rhythms and his or her own pattern of attention spans. Nothing, we now know, creates as much fatigue, as much resistance, as much anger and as much resentment as the imposition of an alien speed, an alien rhythm and an alien attention span.”

Image credit: burstingwithcolors/Flickr
Image credit: burstingwithcolors

The effect could be “physiologically offensive” to humans. “It results speedily in a buildup of toxic wastes in muscle, brain and bloodstream, in the release of stress hormones, and in changes in electrical tension throughout the nervous system,” Drucker wrote. “To be productive the individual has to have control, to a substantial extent, over the speed, rhythm and attention spans with which he is working.”

But Drucker also urged those complaining of burnout and exhaustion to examine whether overwork or sleep loss was the real problem or whether they were just sick of their jobs. As he put it in Managing the Nonprofit Organization, “Nothing creates more fatigue than having to force yourself to go to work in the morning when you don’t give a damn.”

What do you think organizations should do to help their employees be better rested?