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If You Are Sick, Stay Home (and please get some sleep)

December 16, 2010

Business people fearing swineflu virus

“We have clear evidence that if you consistently work long hours, you will get ill. And what we’re finding in the developed world is that increasingly the hours are upping that more and more people are working longer and longer.”

Professor Cary Cooper, Organizational Psychologist

In the past month, we’ve met with several clients who were sick.

Physically ill.  Coughing, sneezing, watery eyes, sore throats – the works.  These dedicated employees were very thoughtful and concerned for our health, standing a distance away and avoiding our usual handshakes.

What’s important to note about these executives is that both are senior managers at high levels of their organization.  These leaders are the “modelers” of their teams and companies.  They set a tone for the culture of well-being in their organizations.

Each confessed they were fortified to the hilt with OTC (over the counter) drugs – just enough to make it through their day.  They conceded that feeling this way, they would shave an hour or two off of their usual 10 – 12 hour work days, but felt “way too much was going on at work to stay home.”

What’s wrong with this picture?

Why are so many people (especially leaders) in so many workplaces unable to take care of their own well-being?

Do they need more information on the perils of poor self-care?  Do they need more statistics on the insidious role of stress and its impact on the mind and body?

We don’t think so.  If information and “rational” thought were the driving factors for human change, we’d live in a very different world!

There is ample evidence that the way that many of us are working is hurting us – and ultimately lowering the productivity and effectiveness of the organizations we work for.

A report from the Term Life Insurance Blog stated that 1 in 31 Americans (that’s 10 million) worked 60+ hours a week last year. That’s 200 more hours per person worked compared to 1970 data.   The post sites 6 “warning” factors to determine if you are joining the workaholic’s club:

 

1. Working at home has become routine.

2. You feel bored and unproductive if you are not working.

3. Work and clients have access to you 24/7 and it interferes with life.

4. You think you are the best person for the job and refuse to delegate.

5. You are constantly talking about work.

6. Your workday doesn’t stop when everyone else goes home.

We’ll add two other questions to the list –

“Do you take vacations,” and  “Do you work while on vacation – even if it is a “stay-cation?”

A remarkable number of people are identified with their work – as their life. There is nothing wrong with that – as long as your physical and emotional health is cared for in the process.

The Value of Sleep

Time to preach the value of sleep.

It is hard to ignore the growing body of research on sleep. Recent studies show the quality and amount of sleep we get affects our moods, our mental acuity, productivity, creativity, physical activity level and even our weight.

Regardless of what we believe – and what habits we have established – the latest information on sleep needs are surprising:

The Average Amount of Sleep Needed

Newborns (0-2 months)12 – 18

Infants (3 months to 1 year)14 – 15

Toddlers (1 to 3 years)12 – 14

Preschoolers (3 to 5 years)11 – 13

School-aged children (5 to 12 years)10 – 11

Teens and preteens (12 to 18 years)8.5 – 10

Adults (18+)7.5 – 9

Naturally, there are exceptions.  Many people pooh – pooh the recommended guidelines for sleep. Some people even take pride in their ability to “get by on 4 hours.”

The reality is that if you are a member of the four or five-hour sleep club, while you may be functioning – you have no idea what your productivity and mental sharpness might be like if you slept for 6 or 7 hours over time.   Studies also show that although light sleepers may be able to function, there is a hidden physiological toll on their bodies from a protracted lack of sleep.

Google Takes Naps

Some readers may be thinking, “Yeah, but Google is an Exception,” those radical young corporate hippies make a splash by doing things differently.

Not so says sleep Berkeley sleep researcher, Mathew Walker, A nap rights the wrong of prolonged wakefulness, but at a neurocognitive level, it moves you beyond where you were before you took a nap.”

Tony Schwartz of the Energy Project points out that despite all the evidence on the benefits of napping“I’ve yet to come across a single company that actively and enthusiastically encourages employees to nap. A growing number, including Google, provide napping pods and renewal rooms. That’s a great first step, but it’s scarcely the norm to use them. Napping won’t begin to take hold in companies until leaders recognize that it’s not the number of hours people work that determines the value they create, but rather the energy they’re capable of bringing to whatever hours they work.”

While US companies seem unaware of the downside of reinforcing exhausted, stressed out workers to work even harder, the government of the UK has recently taken extraordinary steps to protect workers from the “21st century Black Plague” of stress.  Since classifying stress as a workplace risk, thousands of UK-based companies have come up with new management standards for health and safety to protect workers.

In discussing corporate policies that were created as a result of the UK government initiative, Cary Cooper, Professor of Organizational Psychology at the Lancaster University School of Management stated, “They have come up with management standards for stress which are world-renowned now, and they are a landmark in the sand. They are saying to all of us that the way in which you manage people can be as damaging if not more damaging than faulty equipment and toxins in the work environment.”

So as the year draws to a close, it may be the perfect time to do some self-assessment of your “worth ethic.” How much value do you place on your time, your health and your peace of mind.  Where is your energy focused most of the time – and what’s the quality of that energy?

If you and your organization believe that working longer and harder is working smarter – you’re both on the wrong trajectory. Time for a course correction.

Take back your life.  Get some rest.  Take time for yourself, your relationships and your family. Do something that’s not on your to-do list. Take more walks in nature. Read a book.  Laugh more.

You’ll benefit your body, your mind – and your workplace in the process.

Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, subscribe, share, like and tweet this article. It’s appreciated.

Louise Altman, Partner, Intentional Communication Consultants

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