A good night’s sleep is more than a tagline in a TV ad. It’s the path to good leadership and happier employees
One of my favourite activities to look forward to at the end of the day (after my glass of wine, that is) is sleep. I gladly give up on watching television to snuggle in bed, either with or without a book, and call it a day. Laying my head on the pillow each night and waking up in the morning with no more than a few brief tosses has always been a delightfully rejuvenating experience, and I proudly wear, as a badge of honour, the eight to nine hours of sleep that I get.
As much as I have been blessed with an excellent sleep history, I know I pale in comparison to my beloved, who need only look at a pillow to fall asleep. Deep sleep is part of a regular routine in my household.
While we all know of the importance of sleep to our well-being, it is not always easy to implement, especially with all the stressors we have been facing. Our brains have been acting like thoroughbreds, racing to provide solutions to problems we cannot control. When we eventually get to bed and fall asleep, we undoubtedly wake up multiple times with bouts of mental unrest or carry disturbing dreams into our waking consciousness. At this time, the sleep that I cherish may be a commodity that is hard to come by.
Many studies prove that employees who sleep better also perform better on the job. In addition to being happier and healthier, they are also safer in occupations where there is a risk of potential physical harm due to accidents. The Public Health Agency of Canada reports that more than one-third of Canadian workers do not get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep per night, resulting in sleep-deprived workers.
Sleep deprivation is affecting many, including our bosses, who are almost certainly under tension to set the bar at performing well. Whether small or large business, independent or multinational, there is pressure to perform in order to meet revenue objectives. Without a doubt, these are difficult months for people whose sleep isn’t that good even in the best of times.
There are some bosses that may not be aware of the impact of their behaviour, thus I am reluctant to call them toxic bosses. However, that is the impact they are having.
We have heard, and perhaps even experienced, the psychological stresses of working for a toxic boss. They can also have a detrimental effect on our sleep particularly in two ways.
First, many leaders like to boast that they thrive on only a few hours of sleep a night, setting an unhealthy example that employees may feel pressured to emulate. When a boss brags about needing practically no sleep to function, this is poor leadership, because it sets up a guilt dynamic should you wish to get in a solid eight hours yourself. It also shows a lack of concern for your health. Sleep leadership involves educating workers about the value of a good night’s sleep as well as modelling your own sleep quality. “How did you sleep?” could be part of a sleep leader’s morning greeting to an employee.
Second, which is especially dangerous in a work-at-home environment, a boss may set the expectation of 24/7 availability, upsetting how you balance your home and work lives. If part of the toxicity created by your boss includes expectation that you’re always available, this will further erode your ability to relax and rejuvenate. One of the possible casualties of the work-from-home requirement associated with COVID-19 is that, if your workplace becomes your home, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be available at all hours for pitching in on a project. This can make for a stressed and disrupted sleep.
Having an insensitive or unsympathetic boss poorly attuned to the pressures you feel can interfere with how well you’re able to maintain a regular bedtime.
So, what can you do?
Typically, when we think about a toxic work environment, we are unlikely to identify the way we talk about sleep as a key component. Yet if you and or your staff are chronically sleepy or mentally slower, it’s possible that the message you are sending about this aspect of health is having an impact.
Employees who feel that their bosses exemplify good sleep hygiene sleep more soundly, are less likely to feel fatigued during the day and therefore perform better. And a well-rested employee will exhibit less stress, more energy and an overall sense of well-being. So, reflect on whether you exhibit these behaviours and use this information to become a better sleep leader.
Admittedly, this may be a subtle form of toxic leadership. However, it is important to learn to understand the message you may be conveying about sleep to your team.
I start many a morning meeting proclaiming my refreshed state, and it prompts either agreement or chiding to those who game or watch television a little too long. It is all in good fun, yet the message is clear: sleep is important.