One US company has taken the concept of a ‘dream’ job one step further – by monitoring it’s employees sleep habits and paying a $300 bonus to employees who sleep 7 hours a night or more.
Insurance giants Aetna invite staff to participate in this unusual benefit, and have the choice of automatic recording using a wrist monitor that connects to Aetna’s computer system, or can manually record how long they have slept every night. Staff earn $25 for every 20 nights in which they sleep seven hours or more, up to a limit of $300 every 12 months.
The scheme was first introduced in 2009, and just under half of the firm’s 25,000 employees elected to participate last year.
The National Institutes of Health recommends adults, including the elderly, get seven to eight hours of sleep per night,
Vice-president of employee benefits, Kay Mooney, explained that monitoring sleep was only “one of many different healthy behaviours we wanted staff to track”.
The firm’s staff also earn bonuses if they do exercise.
The programme would appear to have brought measurable benefits so far – and not just in staff wage packets. Aetna brought in Duke University to study the effectiveness of the firm’s wellness program, which includes better sleep information, yoga, and meditation. CEO and Chairman Mark Bertolini confirmed he had seen “69 minutes more a month of [worker] productivity on the part of us just investing in wellness and mindfulness.”
He told CNBC’s Squawk Box:
“If we can make … business fundamentals better by investing in our people, then that’s going to show up in our revenue,” he continued. “It’s going to show up in our bottom line and the Street’s confidence that we can do it quarter, after quarter, after quarter; year after year.”
Arianna Huffington, author of “The Sleep Revolution”, explained that Aetna’s approach was changing misperceptions about staff performance. She said:
“It really changes the cultural delusion that most businesses have been operating under, which has been … the more exhausted and burned out the employees are, the more productive they are.”
In her book, Huffington cites the business leaders who value getting adequate sleep, including economist Mohamed El-Erian, Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella,Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, and Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google parent Alphabet.
Huffington is not the only researcher citing the need for better sleep.
Years’ worth of studies show that real dangers come with lack of sleep. Circadian, a Massachusetts specialist in tackling worker fatigue, claim fatigue causes slower response times, increased errors and mispronouncing or slurring words; driving impairments; an increase in risky behavior, and an inability to develop new strategies based on incoming information.
Whilst these dangers have always been recognised among workers who drive or operate heavy machinery, it is only in recent years that anyone has considered them among white collar staff, with those surviving on little sleep and working late into the night considered as ‘keen, hungry workers’ rather than a risk to the business.
Wharton management professor Nancy Rothbard says:
“Employers with factory workers have always been concerned with this, because there has always been a sense of fatigue leading to accidents and OSHA-like concerns,” says Rothbard. “But I think it’s a slightly different phenomenon we’re talking about with cell phones never being off, where boundaries between work and non-work are being eroded.”
Lines are in fact becoming so eroded that France is considering banning the use of workplace emails outside of the strictly enforced 35 hour week that French employees enjoy.
However, absence management expert Adrian Lewis of Activ Absence does not think this would help, and prefer’s Aetna’s approach:
“It’s great to see an employer working with the issues of sleep so directly. Poor sleep has consistently shown to increase stress. The working time regulations exist for a reason – rested employees are more productive.
“The French approach won’t work because the ability to work 24/7 from a device in our hand is only part of the issue. Email, Facebook, Netflix, Twitter and news feeds offer a 24/7 tech soup, and thanks to social media we expect instant responses to everything. Many people struggle to disconnect and just ‘go to sleep’, which is contributing to ever-soaring rates of stress and mental illness, leading to poor productivity and increased absence from work. However, the Aetna approach positively reinforces the right behaviours and I’m not surprised it’s proving successful.”