Andrew Heathcote Rich Lists editor

Andrew is BRW's Rich lists editor and is responsible for the Rich 200 and Young Rich flagship issues. He also reports on matters relating to wealth and investment for BRW and The Australian Financial Review.

View more articles from Andrew Heathcote

People in here need to sleep

Published 04 April 2012 16:33, Updated 05 April 2012 04:17

+font -font print

Too many workers are missing out on a good night’s sleep and the consequences for business are immense, sleep experts say.

A February report by Deloitte Access Economics suggests that sleep deprivation is costing businesses $3.1 billion a year in lost productivity.

The report also suggests that the total cost to the economy of sleep disorders (including healthcare and indirect costs) is about $5 billion a year and that about 5 per cent of workplace injuries are caused by sleepy employees.

Employers of blue-collar workers have long recognised the impact tired workers have on workplace safety. But many other employers might also benefit financially from addressing the issue, according to David Hillman, a doctor, director of the Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Perth and chairman of the Sleep Health Foundation, which commissioned the Deloitte report.

Hillman says the $3.1 billion the report quotes as annual productivity losses from sleep deprivation is a conservative estimate.

“These costs are largely based on [the impact of] absenteeism,” Hillman says. “Another cost, which is very difficult to calculate, is presenteeism.”

Hillman describes presenteeism as the cost to business from employees turning up to work when sleep deprived.

“They sit in their chair but have some type of cognitive impairment on their performance, which makes them less productive and less safe.”

He says “enlightened” employers will try to identify which workers have sleep problems and encourage those with medical, as opposed to lifestyle, problems to get a doctor’s help.

“A lot of these things are readily treated,” Hillman says. Where it’s a lifestyle issue, flexibility is one way of addressing the problem, a senior lecturer at Southern Cross University, Gary Mellor, says.

“This puts the onus on the immediate manager, who is generally the person best placed to address the issue.

“Decisions need to be made by the lowest level of management possible.

“You can have these great initiatives from upper management about work-life balance but middle managers need to have the power to implement them on a case-by-case basis.”

Employers are also concerned that patrolling tired workers may be too onerous a burden.

In September last year, the government agency Safe Work Australia released a draft code of practice titled “Preventing and managing fatigue in the workplace”.

It suggests that employers should identify hazards that can contribute to their employees becoming fatigued and implement risk control measures to help manage them.

However, employer groups fear that existing definitions of fatigue are too vague and that the issue is beyond the control of managers

In a submission to Safe Work Australia’s draft report, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry wrote that any guidelines about fatigue should not be mandatory and should only provide steps to prevent and respond to fatigue for “safety-critical” tasks.

The best thing that employees can do is aim to get an average of eight hours’ sleep a night, Hillman says.

That may be aided by making sure they have a “switched off” period for a few hours before lying down.

Hillman says that the ubiquity of technology has a lot to answer for. “People go to bed wired,” he says.

“They go to sleep with their mobile phones under their pillows. There is far too much stimulatory activity late in the evening.”

Comments