These impact stories illustrate how businesses are working to address the damaging sleep-loss of their employees.
Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust consider sleep and recovery issues in relation to staff in two capacities. Many staff work in shifts and know first-hand the potential impact this has on health and wellbeing. The risks of shift work causing different types of ill health are documented in literature too. The Trust has two strands of work around sleep and recovery. They have around 15,300 staff (and an extra 3,000 Bank staff), many of whom work in shifts, so they know the importance of the issues. The first strand is ‘reactive’, involving those who come to the Occupational Health team because they are struggling with shift work. They deal with these issues on an individual basis, understanding what the problems are and how best we can address them. For example, people on insulin may struggle with shift patterns, so they provide them with expert training to manage their medication and their work pattern. Sometimes referrals onto other services like sleep disorder specialists are necessary. Whatever the action, the end product of these interventions is to advise staff and managers on how best to handle these issues. The second strand of our sleep and recovery work is proactive. They run a number of initiatives as part of their ‘5 ways to a healthier YOU’ programme which encompasses all their health and wellbeing offerings for staff, such as smoking cessation, gym memberships, exercise groups, healthy eating support etc. The Trust runs monthly campaigns themed around different topics. One recent campaign was under the slogan HALT (hungry, angry, late, tired) when they reiterated the importance of maintaining a healthy work-life balance and taking breaks. As part of this campaign, they also focused on the importance of sleep and how to maintain a sleep pattern – especially for those who do shift work.
Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust worked with a leading specialist (Dr Michael Farquhar) to develop workshops and seminars, including training on sleep and recovery, for paediatric junior doctors. They're currently working to roll out the ideas to staff in other directorates. Historically, sleeping on shifts used to be discouraged. They are working to promote taking a short nap at long breaks during night duties as it helps improve sleep patterns. To establish this, some groundwork is needed to shift the culture to accept that taking breaks and sleeping during breaks is important, but also to support this to happen. For instance, you need a place for people to sleep, planning for breaks in advance and proper handovers to ensure the continuity of care.
The Working Time Directive (WTD) often comes up and it is essential that all embrace it. This doesn’t just mean paying attention to working hours; it means providing health checks for staff who undertake shift work. The bottom line is to ensure everyone, staff and managers, recognise the importance of sleep in the context of productivity, health and wellbeing.
You wouldn’t expect employees of Yorkshire Building Society to be at risk of sleep deprivation. We don’t have shift workers as such, and many of our staff work in branches, which keep regular office hours. But when we started talking about sleep as part of our approach to health and wellbeing at work, we quickly realised how important sleep is as an issue. In the first instance, the subject of sleep was raised by an employee during one of our regular discussions. A follow-up post on our intranet was widely read and attracted more than 40 responses from our colleagues, who shared tips and advice for getting a good night’s sleep. We used one of our weekly staff intranet polls to find out more about sleeping habits, and 30 per cent answered “Sleep? What’s that?” So, we knew that our colleagues would welcome more support.
Yorkshire Building Society followed up with campaigns around sleep, framed as an integral part of their approach to health and wellbeing and co-created by employees. They aimed to provide the information people need to understand why sleep is good for you and to help people get more sleep. They posted articles about sleep, with practical advice about how to get a good night’s sleep, which has proven very popular across the organisation. Working with the Mental Health Foundation, who support our wellbeing programme, we provided additional advice about how to heal after a period of poor sleep. This encompassed health, environment, attitude and lifestyle. We made available an eight-week sleep course and encouraged employees to access ‘Unmind’, our own health and wellbeing portal, which includes sleep support. An important consideration is that it became clear to us that for many employees a barrier to a good night’s sleep is their children not sleeping well. So, we signposted to advice to help their children at bedtime, knowing that this is a positive step toward also helping parents.
Sleep is a deeply personal experience, and not everybody will want to talk about it. But, as we found, it is an issue that concerns many employees. Having an open conversation in the workplace encourages people to think about their sleep patterns and whether there are things they can do to help themselves sleep better.
NATS looks after the vast majority of aircraft flying in the airspace above the UK. Our air traffic controllers are responsible for the safe passage of aircraft 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They work a shift system to accommodate this. With increasingly busy air traffic, our controllers can be just as busy at 5 o’clock in the morning as they are at 5 o’clock in the afternoon. The safe and efficient movement of aircraft depends heavily on the skill and performance of our controllers. Controllers have to process large amounts of information, make timely decisions and be vigilant continually for potential problems.
Our regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority, recognised nearly 30 years ago that to maintain consistently high levels of safe performance, the number of time controllers can ‘talk to pilots’ needs to be tightly regulated. Our controllers’ working hours and rest breaks are therefore carefully controlled – probably to a greater extent than any other profession in the UK. Even with these controls in place, people vary in how they cope with shift work depending on their health, fitness, age, lifestyle and domestic responsibilities. Some adapt well; others do not. Recognising this, NATS Human Factors specialists run a programme to inform controllers about the importance of proper rest and sleep to promote high performance in the work place. For example, all staff in NATS with a role that has safety implications (and this extends beyond air traffic controllers to include engineers, managers, etc.) have to complete a detailed e-learning course on fatigue management. This helps them to recognize the signs of tiredness and fatigue and to know how to prevent these things affecting the jobs they do. This training material is augmented by regular ‘campaigns’ that promote various topics, such as techniques to maintain alertness and maintaining good sleep habits.
An excerpt from a recent article on shift work and sleep on the NATS in-house intranet site:
Working shifts that differ from the routines of friends and family can leave you feeling isolated, and it is important to make an effort not to lose contact with them.
- Talk to friends and family about shift work. If they understand the problems you are facing, it will be easier for them to be supportive and considerate
- Make your family and friends aware of your shift schedule so they can include you when planning social activities
- Plan your domestic duties around your shift schedule and try to ensure that you do not complete them at the cost of rest/sleep. You may need to change the times/days when some jobs are done
To help controllers tackle tiredness as their working day progresses, NATS air traffic
controllers are encouraged:
controllers are encouraged:
- To use their mandated rest breaks in such a way that their recovery from a spell in front of a radar display or the control tower is maximised. For example, getting some fresh air is promoted but sitting down at a computer to check emails is discouraged.
- To take short (20-30 minute) naps where their duties allow, as these have been shown to boost productivity and alertness later in the day. NATS provides suitable facilities for this.
- To set up their working environment in such a way that it is conducive to aid concentration and minimise physical fatigue.
Finally, NATS has a fatigue risk management policy and strategy which underpins all our efforts in this area. The overarching principle of this is that fatigue management must be a shared responsibility between both management and staff. Simply speaking, this means that everyone in the Company needs to take the risks seriously that fatigue can bring to the air traffic control operation and take steps both when at work and when at leisure to rest, sleep and recover from the demands of the job.