The Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Professional Productivity and Leadership

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Saskia Constantinou
Journalist, Cyprus

The Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Professional Productivity and Leadership

It is well known that sleep deprivation has resounding effects and is obviously an individual, personal issue in our increasingly hyper connected world. But more recently the need for sleeping has also become a focus of companies and organisations.

How many employees feel the need to constantly be ‘online’ and checking emails and replying to them out of work hours? Journalists for example need to be on an almost continual 24/7 call to breaking news… Research has shown that sleep-deprived brains lose the ability to make accurate judgments which can have serious consequences.

That's why Mark Bertolini, the former CEO of Aetna, a large health care benefits company, made global headlines when he implemented an innovative programme where he paid his employees up to US$500 a year to get more sleep. Bertolini recognised the strong link between sleep, employee productivity and increased company profits. Following his directive, it was found that Aetna employees improved their productivity by 69 minutes each month as a direct result of the company paying them to sleep more.

Feser, Mayot and Srinivasan studied 81 organisations and 189,000 people around the world. In this McKinsey research, it was found that four types of leadership behaviour are most commonly associated with high-quality executive teams: The ability to operate with strong orientation to results, to solve problems effectively, to seek out different perspectives, and to support others. What was striking was the proven link between sleep and effective leadership.

Sleep deprivation also effects how the brain overacts to emotional events and that employees feel less engaged with their work when leaders have had a poor night of sleep.

What can be done?

Feser and Mayol’s study showed that 70% of the leaders believed that sleep management should be taught in organisations, just like time management and communication skills. Wellness, mindfulness, exercise, nutrition and energy management should be introduced although it was emphasized that before introducing new policies, there should be conversations and discussions amongst leaders about which ideas would be best suited to each company.

1. Feser, C., Mayol, F., and Srinivasan, R., (Jan 2015), "Decoding leadership: What really matters", McKinsey Quarterly
2. Macey, W. and Schneider, B., (2008) "The Meaning of Employee Engagement", Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 1 (2008), 3–30.

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