Deur Anja van den Berg
“Money never sleeps,” says Gordon Gekko in the film Wall Street. Yes, that’s technically correct. But there’s a related point he never mentions: never sleeping costs money.
The story of overwork is literally a story of diminishing returns: keep overworking, and you’ll progressively work more foolishly on tasks that become increasingly meaningless.
There’s a large body of research that suggests that regardless of our reasons for working long hours, overwork does not help us or the companies we work for, says Sarah Carmichael, executive editor at Harvard Business Review. “For starters, it doesn’t seem to result in more output.”
Considerable evidence shows that overworking and under-sleeping is not just neutral; it hurts us as well as our employers. This sort of lifestyle leads to all sorts of health problems, including depression, heavy drinking, diabetes, impaired memory and heart disease.
“Of course, those are bad on their own,” Carmichael continues, “but they’re also terrible for a company’s bottom line, showing up as absenteeism, turnover and rising medical aid costs.
Even the Scroogiest of employers, who care nothing for his/her employees’ well-being, should find strong evidence here that real balance-sheet costs are incurred when employees log crazy hours.”
According to new estimates from the research firm RAND, the economic cost of sleep-deprived employees amounts to billions of dollars for countries like the UK, the US, Canada, Germany and Japan. It has been estimated that sleep deprivation costs businesses in the US an estimated $150 billion (R1.9 trillion) a year in absenteeism, workplace accidents and lost productivity.
In South Africa, a recent survey conducted by The Bed Shop showed that 80%, or 1359 of the 1690 participants, felt ‘tired and unrested in the morning’.
Even if you enjoy your job and work long hours voluntarily, you’re simply more likely to make mistakes when you’re tired — and most of us tire more easily than we think we do.
“Only 1% to 3% of the population can sleep five or six hours a night without suffering some performance drop-off,” Carmichael warns.
“Moreover, for every 100 people who think they’re a member of this sleepless elite, only five actually are. The research on the performance-destroying effects of sleeplessness alone should make everyone see the folly of the all-nighter.”
According to a recent survey conducted in the hospitality sector in South Africa, sleep-deprived staff members were 14% more likely to be late for work and 19% more likely to make crucial errors. Staff members who did not get enough sleep were also nearly twice as likely to be injured or killed in work-related accidents.
When sleep deprived, a person’s ability to solve problems decreases by 57% and his/her decision-making abilities are reduced by 56%, the Agility Corporate case study has found.
Lizette Bester, productivity expert and Agility Corporate executive, says that many companies these days operate over long hours, and sometimes require staff to work around the clock. “If not carefully managed, this can lead to a number of psychological problems for people working unconventional hours, which may be detrimental to productivity.”
Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2015/08/the-research-is-clear-long-hours-backfire-for-people-and-for-companies
Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2017/08/research-sleep-deprivation-can-make-it-harder-to-stay-calm-at-work
Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2011/03/sleep-is-more-important-than-f
Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2018/09/sleep-well-lead-better