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Are your most difficult workers simply short on sleep?

Few of us are at our best when sleep deprived

Even the simplest tasks can feel hugely taxing when we are fatigued, so what happens when we are unable to keep late nights and work demands separate?

According to the Rotterdam School of Management, lack of sleep amongst employees can have real effects in the workplace, with a new study flagging up the impact tiredness can have on workers’ behaviour, state of mind and emotional health in relation to the working day. According to this study, just one night of broken sleep can lead to individuals feeling less able to cope with their work and to act in ways at odds with their usual behaviour.

Exhaustion is a major factor in disagreements between colleagues, the Rotterdam study found. Fatigue can make workers less able to control their impulses and therefore decrease their ability to rein in negative behaviour, such as outbursts of temper, that might offend others. Arguments can have a damaging impact on workplace atmosphere and reduce productivity as a result.

Tiredness can also hinder workers in making sound, moral judgments. Previous studies have uncovered a link between fatigue and difficulty in making critical decisions under pressure – a potentially disastrous failing for a worker in a position of responsibility. Important decisions made wrongly when under pressure can have lasting consequences in the workplace and for the career of the worker who made them.

Many of us find that our mood can fluctuate during the day, but we are usually able to control the way in which this affects our outward behaviour. The Rotterdam study, however, found that those suffering from a lack of sleep are less able to exert this control, which can lead to unfortunate repercussions.

Erratic behaviour that the tired individual could display due to fluctuating mood could include being more argumentative, less productive, or even more dramatic negative actions such as indulging in petty theft. The effect of these actions on a working environment would obviously be very damaging to both the worker and any colleagues caught up in their fatigue-induced outburst.

The corrosive effect of tiredness on workplace morale, workers’ mental health and productivity is in conjunction with the damage exhaustion can do to individuals’ physical health. The Rotterdam study linked sleep deprivation with type 2 diabetes, weight issues and heart disease, all of which could take their toll on the tired worker. The risk of heart attacks and strokes also increases with long periods of sleeplessness, adding additional worries to the – in all likelihood – already stressed-out individual.

The findings of the Rotterdam study should give both employers and employees pause for thought. Employers could take a moment to consider the vicious cycle of sleep deprivation on their workers: stress at work leads to sleeplessness, which leads to more stress at work. Employees could weigh up how much responsibility they should be taking for their fatigue: perhaps an early night would not hurt once in a while.

Whatever the position of the individual, it should be accepted that a good night’s sleep is a positive for everyone.

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