It’s January 3rd and admittedly, the festival of sleep might not be the first or most official event to spring to mind, however, it’s definitely one that we want to acknowledge. Created to remind us to rest after a busy festive period and to implement better self-care practices for the year ahead, we think it’s the perfect time to reflect on the importance of rest for healthy working practices.
For our bodies to function effectively, the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) suggests that most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night with consistent sleep and wake times. The NSF outlines the need for routine mealtimes, natural light, daily exercise and wind-down periods to improve sleep quality and overall health. Despite an abundance of literature backing the importance of rest, many workplaces are resisting healthier working practices and are instead clinging to outdated systems when trying to increase output from their workers.
In some instances, hustle culture is still lingering. Hussle culture is defined as “the mentality that one must work all day every day in pursuit of their professional goals” (Monster). The idea of working harder for longer is championed by some managers to increase output under the pretense that it shows ambition for the employee’s career growth. Although LinkedIn is splattered with posts that both support and demonise hustle culture, research has shown the very real effects that the constant ‘hustle’ and lack of rest can have. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has reported a positive correlation between above-average working hours and early death, with people working 55+ hours per week 35% more likely to have a stroke. Emphasising this risk, the WHO has now classified ‘burnout’, a once colloquial term for being overworked, as an “occupational phenomenon” caused by stress that leads to exhaustion, mental distancing from work and reduced efficiency.
Further compounding the risk of burnout are high commute times. Yes, there are perks to being in the office; colleagues can socialise, equipment such as printers are more readily available and inter-colleague communication can be more effective. However, working in an office involves commuting, something that increased by 9% from 2020 to 2021 as pandemic restrictions have eased (Gov.uk; 2022). Each commute within the UK’s 2021 report averaged 27 minutes, thus, with a total average of a 1 hour journey on top of the working day it’s not surprising that employees are calling for more flexible and hybrid working policies. Allowing hybrid work where possible, for those who want it, could increase rest and reduce stress, thus positively benefiting the employee and the company.
With evidence from the WHO and countless professional bodies on the impact of overworking and burnout, it begs the question of how beneficial it really can be to overwork an employee. To mark this Festival of Sleep, we have put together some tips to improve work/life balance and increase rest to ensure you have a happier and healthier work life:
- Put your app’s on time limits. There’s nothing worst then getting ready for an early night after a long day and receiving an email saying ‘urgent’ – the temptation will be there to respond and your mind will not be resting.
- Have honest conversations with your employers about work times. Are you always running 10 minutes late for the school run? Your employer might be able to accommodate a slight variation in work time if it’s going to reduce stress and increase concentration at work
- If you work from home, try and go for a walk at lunch / after work. This is a really simple way of reducing stress and improving your sleep.
- If you are experiencing significant and consistent negative sleep patterns think about how work might be affecting you and if work is the known cause, consider moving workplace
- Hybrid work – Seriously consider offering hybrid work / reducing the days required of employees to attend the office (where possible). Hybrid work opportunities will increase candidate interest and decrease risk of burnout for some employees.
- Be flexible with working patterns where possible – Although the level of flex might vary for each role, allowing employees to leave 30 minutes early and make the time back later may reduce home pressure (aka childcare) and stress, thus allowing them to gain better rest.
- Don’t encourage overworking – Yes, occasionally employees might need to rush on a project or work late but this shouldn’t be encouraged. Think – if there is too much work, should an interim or another employee be brought in to help?