This week, 18th-22nd May 2020, is Mental Health Awareness Week and the original subject for this week before the pandemic was sleep.
There are a lot of things out of our control at the moment but a great way for us to help ourselves and our teams to look after our mental health is to focus on what we can control.
Sleep has long been a mystery to the scientific community, however we know that getting enough sleep is essential in maintaining good mental health. As part of #mentalhealthawarenessweek we want to explore how employers can support their employees to create better sleeping habits.
Studies have shown that 7-9 hours of sleep every night are needed to allow the body to restore and rejuvenate. Sleep is an essential part of the body's process of controlling our emotions by triggering the right hormones. Not getting enough sleep disrupts this process, which in the short term can cause mood swings and in the long term can increase the likelihood of mental health problems.
In such uncertain times, there's an increased risk of negative thoughts and anxiety becoming overwhelming, leading to problems with sleep, and if someone has an existing sleep problem this can make things even worse. This close relationship between sleep and mental health can lead to a vicious cycle if either the initial sleep or mental health issue goes unaddressed.
A sleep-deprived workforce can be 57% less productive, 1/3 less alert, suffer from a lack of engagement and creativity, and decreased powers of decision-making and problem-solving. Working 70 hours a week might mean they get everything done, but is it worth it if they have to take time off for stress?
What can employers do to help employees create better sleep habits?
Pressure at work can be a big contributing factor to stress, worry & anxiety, so it's part of an employer's responsibility to support their people to counteract this. Here are some simple things you can do to help your team:
Recognise the importance of sleep
- Have open conversations about the importance of sleep with your employees, and make sure they know how important it is to you to provide support.
- Ask if there's any help they need from you specifically.
- Set up training sessions with tips on how to improve their sleep, including changing their routine, sleep environment & lifestyle choices. Mentalhealth.org have some useful information, which can be found here.
- Make sure your employees don't have too much on their plates. This can be a difficult thing to admit for some people, so make it an open, positive conversation and set your expectations, so that no-one feels chastised for not feeling able to complete all the work they've been set.
- Help them to prioritise their workload by explaining which projects or tasks are most important to you as a manager, and set aside ones that aren't, allowing them to free up some time in their schedule.
- Once the burden of an excessive workload has been taken away, stress & anxiety levels may decrease, making falling asleep easier.
Assess working hours
- We've all had to get used to working in different ways over the past couple of months, and lots of businesses have realised that although having people in the office together can result in a really positive working environment, they've been forced to see the benefits of working from home some of the time.
- The lack of a commute means people get to spend more time at home, and maybe even more time asleep - although we're sure the parents among you would disagree!
- A better work-life balance can give people more time to focus on personal relationships and hobbies, resulting in reduced levels of stress and anxiety, and a better night's sleep.
- If your employees are in a 9-5 role, encourage them to log off and shut down when they're supposed to. If they've got too much work to finish on time, then you need to refer back to managing their workload and make sure they haven't got too much on. Some people enjoy working longer than necessary, but it can have a detrimental effect on their mental health that they might not notice until it's too late.
Set an example and put an embargo on emails
- If you're encouraging your employees to clock off on time and get a good night's sleep, then you should follow suit. Sending them emails late into the night that they don't see until the next morning can cause them to feel guilt that they're not putting in as many hours as you, which can be a source of stress.
- If they won't see your emails until the next morning, then don't send them until then, to prevent any angst that they're missing out.
- Although the welfare of your workforce is important, managers have to be fighting fit as well in order to lead a team, so think about how your own work-life balance is affected by your workload.
For more information on the relationship between sleep & mental health, take a look at these resources: