Waking to be Productive

In grade school, I was surprised to learn of the Spanish tradition of Siesta. I recall this as part of a discussion of cultural diversity back in the day. The idea came back to me when I recently read Should workers be allowed to nap at work?

There is little doubt that people sleep at work. And, the older we get, perhaps the more common it becomes? The news has reported one jurist sleeping at the bench. We have all seen someone in an audience nod off. Perhaps we have each been that nodding audience member at least once? This is not a new topic, see When Justice SleepsFeigning SleepI'm Tired, You Tired? and Risks for Attorneys. We seem to enjoy discussing sleep as much as we enjoy getting it.
Photo courtesy CNN.

Should workers be allowed to nap at work? notes that sleeping at work is not favored, and often forbidden by employers. However, it contends that "experts say it's time they reconsider." It notes that the U.S. government has recently been cracking down on sleep in the workplace, for reasons not readily apparent to the author. That is not unique, states have experienced issues with sleeping workers as well. One California worker was found to sleep up to three hours daily. 
There is the mathematical expression of "x" hours in the office, multiplied by "y" volume of work potentially accomplished in an hour, and thus the time spent not working is a "cost" of "x" times "y." This is a linear examination of productivity that does not factor in these expert's contention that with more rest, the volume of production, "y" might increase across the time spent working, and thus increase productivity overall. 
There is a cost associated with sleeping workers. The article notes the decrease in productivity with that California worker. And, that "her colleagues (had) to cover for her and pick up her slack." Despite that, the worker was not punished because the supervisor feared some "health problem . . . was causing the drowsiness." This expresses a fear of legal involvement and implication of the Americans with Disability Act, and all that entails. Though that anecdotal example illustrated decreased productivity, the advocates for napping say it would facilitate "increasing productivity not diminishing it."

Their contention is based on a conclusion that some "70 million Americans suffer from a sleep disorder." In a recent study from one of the academic centers of the Universe (Ball State University, eat your heart out Harvard), there is an increasing volume of Americans self-reporting (subjective) getting less sleep. It was particularly notable among "police officers and healthcare workers." But, anecdotally, I hear a great many complain of diminished sleep, increased stress, and feelings that work responsibilities are insurmountable.

Reportedly, "all that sleep deprivation can take a toll on people's health - and the economy." There are studies linking sleep deprivation to "a myriad of health problems": "obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and strokes, along with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression." That is a compelling list. Any of those conditions could perhaps contribute to stress and thus to further issues with sleeping. In that regard, this could be a situation in which the result becomes a cause, aggravating the result, etc. etc. 
Thus, there is a major impact on the individual. But. there is a major impact on society and the businesses that exist therein. According to Rand Corporation, "sleep-deprived workers" have a $411 billion annual impact "on the US economy." Remember Everett Dirkson, Illinois Congressperson and his "a billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you are talking about real money." The cumulative effect is similar here, with many workers' suffering effect, and the overall impact being significant by most.

This comes from underperforming at work because of lack of rest. But, they also "have more health problems." There is also an allegation of an impact more critical to the workers' compensation industry. The article notes that tired employees "have a higher risk of workplace accidents." In recent times, the occurence of work accidents in the U.S. are down, as noted by IA Magazine. It is therefore not apparently that our lack of sleep is increasing the rate of accident, but that perhaps the decrease in frequency could be more pronounced if the workforce were better rested? Upon their contention that rest would decrease frequency, the quoted experts encourage the U.S. to re-examine the "stigma around napping."

There is anecdotal evidence of U.S. companies joining the Siesta paradigm. The article cites companies that have "set up nap rooms to make it easier to snooze." One has a limit on naps: 20 minutes. There is a long history of hospitals having such rooms for staff to recharge. Some refer to the concept as "power napping." I knew an attorney once who took lunch breaks on a bench in a nearby park. She confided that "drifting off" was a usual, if not daily, part of those breaks.

While there are indicators that employees partake of the napping opportunity, some reportedly perceive a stigma attached. One company spokesperson described aversion to being known as one who naps: "not a lot of people like to admit that they use" the nap room. But, others admit to using the room and claim "it is a nice break, and I do feel more productive" after. Others described the result of a quick nap as "awesome." It is safe to say that the jury appears to still be out on the napping at work idea even in workplaces that have destigmatized it.

There are also businesses popping up that rent beds or "energy pods" on a very short term (minutes) basis. I have noticed these in a few airports in my travels. The appeal of these has escaped me frankly, but there must be customers that find value there or these would close? There is thus indicia of some volume of workers seeking the chance for a few minutes of rest in the midst of an otherwise busy day. Some with the acceptance or even encouragement of their employer, others perhaps more surriptisiously. 
The debate will continue. There will be those adamant on each side, and the less decisive in the middle. In the end, it is likely that each of us is different in both our sleep habits and need for sleep. But, in a society that has regulated equality and accomodation, business may be ill-equipped to deal with managing the individuality. Some may thus accomodate anyone that wants to nap, regardless of need. Others may simply preclude anyone from napping, with similar disregard of need. And, at the academic centers there will be continued consideration of both the pro and con arguments. 
Those that require more rest, for the time being and at most employers, will simply need to find the time to rest away from work. That may evolve to greater U.S. acceptance of the workplace nap, but that is unlikely to become widespread soon. You contemplate it. I am going back to bed. 
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    About The Author

    • Judge David Langham

      David Langham is the Deputy Chief Judge of Compensation Claims for the Florida Office of Judges of Compensation Claims at the Division of Administrative Hearings. He has been involved in workers’ compensation for over 25 years as an attorney, an adjudicator, and administrator. He has delivered hundreds of professional lectures, published numerous articles on workers’ compensation in a variety of publications, and is a frequent blogger on Florida Workers’ Compensation Adjudication. David is a founding director of the National Association of Workers’ Compensation Judiciary and the Professional Mediation Institute, and is involved in the Southern Association of Workers’ Compensation Administrators (SAWCA) and the International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions (IAIABC). He is a vocal advocate of leveraging technology and modernizing the dispute resolution processes of workers’ compensation.

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