Sleep is good for business
Fatigue and sleep deprivation can be hazardous and can affect the work performance and productivity of employees. MARISKA MORRIS investigates fatigue in the workplace and ways to manage it
American research organisation Rand Corporation published a research brief in April entitled: Why Sleep Matters. In the brief, it noted that the United Kingdom loses up to 1,56 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP), or US$ 50 billion (R657 trillion), due to fatigue among workers. Canada loses up to 1,35 percent, while Japan suffers a 2,92 percent decline in GDP.
“These figures could be drastically reduced by making small changes to how long individuals sleep. For example, if the working-age population went from up to six hours, to between six and seven hours of sleep per night, each nation could save over half of the economic losses caused by fatigue,” Rand Corporation says.
Fatigue caused by sleep deprivation results in absenteeism or a lack of productivity. According to Rand Corporation, on average, employees who sleep for less than six hours a night are approximately 2,4 percent less productive.
What causes sleep deprivation and fatigue
The causes of fatigue include long working hours and laborious tasks. Mental health problems among workers can, on average, lead to 17 minutes of sleep loss, while being overweight or obese can mean two to seven minutes of lost sleep. A lack of exercise, smoking and musculoskeletal conditions also cause sleeplessness.
Sleep deprivation becomes a vicious cycle. It can cause weight gain, hypertension, diabetes and depression, notes American risk management company Fatigue Science. Fatigue also reduces concentration by 23 percent and memory function by 18 percent. Tasks become nine percent more difficult and a worker’s ability to cope with stress decreases.
The commute to work also greatly affects sleep. On average, employees, who travel 60 minutes or more to work, sleep for 16 minutes less than their peers. Unrealistic time and work pressures can cause up to eight minutes of sleep loss.
Factory workers are some of the most vulnerable as they spend long hours standing and performing repetitive tasks, which can cause musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) – specifically those related to the lower limbs. These disorders affect the muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves and other soft tissue. Although these diseases initially manifest as mild discomfort, this can quickly become acute pain.
Prolonged periods of standing can damage joints, lead to swollen legs, foot disorders (such as Achilles tendonitis) back, hip and neck pain and can slowly diminish elasticity in soft tissue.
How to address fatigue
Anti-fatigue matting can assist in preventing fatigue among factory workers and limit the possibility of injury. The cushioned surface of the matting encourages foot movement, which assists with blood circulation and reduces the chances of MSDs. The mat allows the body to mimic the movement of walking despite being in a static position.
Coba Matco undertook market research in 2015, which found that 75 percent of companies using anti-fatigue mats saw an improvement in the well-being of staff, 54 percent found the mats helped to reduce pain, while 44 percent felt the mats had increased productivity.
“Some 23 percent of companies confirmed that absenteeism had been reduced as a result of anti-fatigue floor mats,” Coba says. The company notes that MSDs are a global concern.
“In South Africa, research suggests that MSDs account for 40 percent of all chronic conditions and 54 percent of all long-term disabilities,” Coba notes. The company has a range of anti-fatigue mats that can benefit companies and their employees.
Other preventative measures to address sleep deprivation, according to the Rand Corporation’s brief, include encouraging employees to adopt healthier sleep-related habits through specific programmes or reward systems, brighter office spaces and nap rooms or nap pods, which allow employees to nap when they become fatigued. This, in turn, promotes productivity and helps improve profit margins. So, to have employees sleeping at work is actually beneficial to the company.