Optimal sleep is critical for workplace productivity.
People who are sleep deprived have difficulty maintaining focus and attention, lack vigilance, experience an increase in reaction times and vulnerability to stress, and are even more likely to make errors and omissions. Even minor sleep impairments have been shown to negatively impact work attendance, work performance, and even increase healthcare costs. Unsurprisingly, sleep deprived workers are even twice as likely to miss work when compared to their optimally sleeping co-workers.
As a result, fatigue at work costs U.S. companies around $136.4 billion dollars a year, or nearly $2,000 annually per employee. Several infamous accidents including the Chernobyl disaster, Exxon oil spill, and Challenger explosion are even thought to have been at least indirectly caused by excessive sleepiness.
Despite these existing findings, most studies to date have focused on performance in unique contexts which may not generalize to the general population. Furthermore, most studies investigating the relationship between sleep and work performance have focused solely on task performance—ignoring important workplace variables such as organizational citizenship behavior, counterproductive work behavior, and job security.
In order to expand on these prior limitations of the existing research, authors of study 1 conducted a meta-analysis of sleep and work performance, and authors of study 2 examined the association between job insecurity and sleep quality.
Authors of a recent study published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior conducted a meta-analysis to examine the relationship between sleep and workplace productivity. A meta-analysis is a type of analysis that combines the results of multiple scientific studies into one larger, synthesized analysis. After an exhaustive search yielding over 958 study results, the authors screened each paper to determine its eligibility. In order to be included in the meta-analysis, studies had to measure sleep and performance, and the participants involved in each study must have been employed adults. A total of 67 independent studies were eventually included in the meta-analysis.
Findings from the meta-analysis revealed that, as anticipated, sleep is positively associated with work performance. In other words, there is a relationship between the increase in sleep quantity and quality increase, and an increase in work performance.
The authors also found that sleep quality had a stronger association with work performance compared with sleep quantity. Although the amount of total sleep duration appears to strongly impact work performance, the quality of sleep was more strongly related. In addition to work performance, the authors investigated the relationship between sleep and other less commonly known work-place variables including organizational citizenship behavior and counterproductive work behavior.
Organizational citizenship behavior is used to a describe positive and beneficial actions and behaviors that are not directly required or part of a formal job description. It’s the “going above and beyond” even when not required as part of any contractual agreements or tasks. On the other hand, counterproductive work behaviors are actions that go against the best interests of the organization – potentially even undermining or harming fellow employees, clients, or customers.
Overall, sleep had strong and significant indirect effects on task performance, organizational citizenship behavior, and counterproductive work behaviors. Further examining the relationship between sleep and these constructs, the researchers found that the strongest association between sleep and performance for attendance and safety – as sleep quality and quantity increased, so did workplace attendance and workplace safety.
These findings are supported by several other studies showing that sleep helps recover the cognitive resources that are depleted over the course of a day. By allowing sufficient quality sleep, employees can “refill” their cognitive resources that are critical for self-control, concentration, and motivation. Researchers now also know that replenishment of cognitive resources is only one of several processes that are involved in sleep’s positive effects on work and job performance. For example, sleep is critical for a psychological process known as affect – the underlying experience of feeling, emotion, and moods.
In line with previous studies, this meta-analysis confirms that sleep is strongly positively associated with several aspects of workplace productivity including workplace performance, attendance, safety. As sleep quality and quantity increase, so too does workplace productivity. These findings highlight the importance of making sleep a non-negotiable priority not just for employee workplace productivity, but company-wide revenue and success.
Over the past decade, and particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, a devastating number of employees have experienced a decline in job security. These overwhelming effects have a significant negative impact on organizational outcomes including psychological withdrawal of employees, increases in turnover, and a reduction in motivation job performance. As a result, job insecurity has affected individual employee health and wellness. In fact, several studies show that job insecurity is associated with both physical health outcomes including an increased risk of obesity and cardiovascular disease, and psychological distress including clinical depression and anxiety. Sleep has been theorized to moderate these effects – in that, poor sleep can exacerbate the effects of job insecurity on physical and psychological well-being.
A recent study published in the journal Stress and Health examined the association between perceived job insecurity and subjective (self-reported) sleep quality while also examining negative work spillover as a mediator. To examine these findings, the authors used 2 different datasets. First, the authors utilized data from a nationally representative sample over 1,031 working adults participating in the Midlife Development in the United States National Survey. A limitation of this first study was that it only used 1 time-point to estimate sleep and job insecurity. In order to track longer-term effects, the authors then recruited an additional 152 working adults who participated in three bi-weekly surveys. This secondary study included more robust, high-quality measures that provided more in-depth detail to further unpack these relationships.
Findings from Study 1 using the nationally representative sample revealed that perceived job insecurity and subjective sleep quality were mediated by negative work spillover. Simply put, several aspects of behavior, mood, and stress from work that were transferred to the at-home, family dynamic were responsible for the relationship between job insecurity and sleep quality. In Study 2, these findings were replicated: a significant association was shown between perceived job insecurity and poor subjective sleep which was mediated by negative work spillover.
Results from these studies affirm the essential role of negative work/at-home spillover as a potential contributor to poor sleep and job insecurity. The authors explain that this finding should encourage a greater focus being placed on negative work spillover as a primary mechanism connecting job stress from work to the home environment. Excessive worry and rumination spilling over from work has a cascading physiological effect on sleep. Worrying and anxiety contribute to elevations in stress hormones, such as cortisol, which may suppress sleep and exacerbate overnight awakenings.
Despite these findings, the direction of these associations remains unclear – does work spillover directly impact sleep, or does poor sleep contribute to work spillover? In fact, there may even be a bidirectional relationship between spillover and sleep in that poor sleep worsens work spillover, and work spillover further aggravates poor sleep. Further work is needed to understand how psychological and behavioral approaches to managing stress and work spill can alleviate sleep problems, and even job security.
Job Performance and Job Security: The Critical Role of Optimal Sleep
Together, these findings highlight the importance of sleep for workplace productivity and performance, workplace attendance and safety, and even job security. In these articles, the authors shine a glaring light on how poor sleep exacerbates job performance and aggregates work-life spillover. As the lines between work and home are blurred – and we become unable to psychologically detach from work – a strong focus on improving sleep may help workers to not only improve workplace productivity, but also overall health and wellness.
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Henderson AA, Horan KA. A meta-analysis of sleep and work performance: An examination ofmoderators and mediators. J Organ Behav. 2021;42:1–19.
Kim YK, Kramer A, Pak S. Job insecurity and subjective sleep quality: The role of spillover and gender. Stress and Health. 2021;37:72—92.