CASE: The Sleepiness Epidemic
Ronit Rogosziniski, a financial planner, loses sleep because of her 5 a.m. wake-up call, so she sneaks to
her car for a quick lunchtime snooze each day. She is not alone, as evidenced by the comments on Wall
Street Oasis, a website frequented by investment bankers who blog about their travails. Should the
legions of secret nappers be blessed or cursed by their organizations for this behavior? Research
suggests they should be encouraged.
Sleep is a problem, or rather, lack of quality zzz’s is a costly organizational problem we can no longer
overlook. Sleepiness, a technical term in this case that denotes a true physiological pressure for sleep,
lowers performance, and increases accidents, injuries, and unethical behavior. One survey found that 29
percent of respondents slept on the job, 12 percent were late to work, 4 percent left work early, and 2
percent did not go to work due to sleepiness. While sleepiness affects 33 percent of the U.S. population,
the clinical extreme, excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS), is fully debilitating to an additional 11 percent.
In a vicious cycle where the effects of sleepiness affect the organization, which leads to longer work
hours and thus more sleepiness, the reason for the sleepiness epidemic seems to be the modern
workplace. Full-time employees have been getting less sleep over the past 30 years as a direct result of
longer work days, putting them more at risk for sleep disorders. Sleepiness directly decreases attention
span, memory, information processing, affect, and emotion regulation capabilities. Research on sleep
deprivation has found that tired workers experience higher levels of back pain, heart disease,
depression, work withdrawal, and job dissatisfaction. All these outcomes have significant implications
for organizational effectiveness and costs. Sleepiness may account for $14 billion of medical expenses,
up to $69 billion for auto accidents, and up to $24 billion in workplace accidents in the United States
Although being around bright light and loud sounds, standing, eating, and practicing good posture can
reduce sleepiness temporarily, there is only one lasting cure: more hours of good-quality sleep. Some
companies are encouraging napping at work as a solution to the problem, and one survey of 600
companies revealed that 6 percent had dedicated nap rooms. In addition, in a poll of 1,508 workers
conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, 34 percent said they were allowed to nap at work. These
policies may be a good start, but they are only Band-Aid approaches since more and better sleep is
what’s needed. Researchers suggest that organizations should consider flexible working hours and
greater autonomy to allow employees to maximize their productive waking hours. Given the high costs
of sleepiness, it’s time for them to take the problem much more seriously
B.) Question 1: Should organizations be concerned about the sleepiness of their employees?
Question 2: What factors influencing sleep might be more or less under the control of an organization?
Question 3: How might sleep deprivation influence aspects of expectancy theory?
Question 4: How might the incorporation of “nap rooms” for sleep-deprived employees demonstrate aspects of equity theory?
Question 5: If you were a manager who noticed your employees were sleep-deprived, what steps might you take to help them?
Question 6: What theories of motivation could you use to help them?