At a previous place where I worked, there was a running gag in which a photo of a coworker who had fallen asleep in his cubicle would circulate throughout the office. It would pop up to add levity to long meetings or make an appearance at happy hour. And while it was mostly laughed off as a one-time faux pas, inadvertent—or from the employer’s perspective, unsanctioned—sleeping at work is far from an isolated problem. A 2014 Ceridian LifeWorks survey of 700 HR leaders tried to quantify its scope. The survey found that more than 30% of human resource leaders have witnessed or heard about a coworker falling asleep on the job in the past 6 months.
While I was never photographed head-on-keyboard, I did participate in a company wellness program and my health questionnaire results advised me to improve my sleep. But there was no sense of urgency to see a physician or to seek a diagnosis. The only offered intervention was voluntary, not incentivized, and consisted of a few hours of online modules that mainly proffered common-sense advice, like not watching TV in bed. Though my company secured discounts for gym memberships to incentivize exercise and polled employees on what we wanted in the vending machines as a nod to nutrition, there was no real interest in improving sleep as the third pillar of health.
Sleep is scarcely incorporated into corporate wellness programs, but that is slowly changing for the better. We have an opportunity to do much more. BenefitsPro.com published an article in June 2014 called “Sleep Apnea Wake-Up Call: A New Frontier for Wellness Programs?” The author cited issues with presenteeism (showing up to work but not fully functioning) and the direct and indirect costs associated with untreated obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) as reasons such programs may be important. ResMed was able to provide cost figures from studies it has supported and a representative added, “The cost of health care is something all employers are concerned about, as are employees. We can help them with understanding how costs are impacted by improving sleep.”
Providing urgent and relevant cost data is the biggest obstacle to sleep being embraced as part of corporate wellness initiatives, as I see it. In this issue’s “Sleep & Corporate Health, Part 2 of 3,” Edward J. Bernacki, MD, tells author Emerson M. Wickwire, PhD: “I don’t think there’s enough information around for employers to make cost-benefit decisions on the effect of sleeplessness on their populations except for a few industries like trucking.” To gather and communicate the cost-benefits of treating disorders such as OSA and insomnia, we must speak the language of C-suite executives. Quantifying the dollar amount of lost productivity due to sleep deficiencies, especially the short-term losses, is key. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, among jobs started by 40- to 48-year olds, 32% ended in less than a year and 69% ended in fewer than 5 years, with younger age groups showing even shorter employment durations. That means we need more short-term cost-benefit analyses of sleep wellness programs for sleep to take its place at C-suite tables with exercise and nutrition. Sleep professionals have a responsibility to gather and disseminate this data.
Sree Roy is editor of Sleep Review. CONTACT [email protected].