Asleep at the switch

Virtually every day brings a new story on air traffic controllers falling asleep while on the job leading one to wonder as to how long it has been going on in a critical workplace like the control tower or even in an aircraft cockpit. In the latter case, Britain's Daily Telegraph of May 1st has a report about both the captain and co-pilot falling asleep on a "long-haul" flight. For the record, as a recreational pilot with hundreds of hours at the controls, I can assert that the stories about both groups of professionals are vastly overblown. Nevertheless, the spate of negative publicity has brought on an equal number of recriminations with very few suggestions geared to combating sleeep deprivation at the workplace and even fewer workplaces have implemented remedial measures and/or devices.

An essay elaborating on the perils of workplace sleep deprivation across industries was posted on a Harvard Business Review blog earlier this year. Entitled "Sleep Deprivation's True Workplace Costs". The post quoted from a survey of 4200 workers in four different industries done by pharmaceutical giant sanofi-aventis. Sanofi's two-part survey had 55 questions pertaining to health and sleep in the first part while the second part had  25-questions aiming to measure the affect (sic) of health-related problems on job performance and productivity. The HBR post noted that the results demonstrated "an interesting picture of the relationship between sleep and work." The principal takeaway from the survey of four companies across industries was that "sleep-related reductions in productivity cost $54 million a year. This doesn't include the cost of absenteeism–those with insomnia missed work an extra five days a year compared to good sleepers." 

The hard numbers from Sanofi's survey merely evidence what should have been received wisdom. Unfortunately that is not the case based on reactions from the marketplace to workers who fall asleep at the switch. That this reflexive backlash is not limited to highly skilled jobs like pilots and air-traffic controllers but even blue collar workers as was the case with a municipal worker in Montreal, Canada who was literally caught napping in his employer provided truck's cabin with the engine on. In this instance even the employees' union seemed to side, many would aver unfairly, with the authorities.

In industries rooted on terra-firma such as hospitality and regular office many reputable upper echelon companies lay great stress on employee welfare at the workplace with some emphasizing employee cafeterias where nutritious food and a collegial atmosphere are of primary importance. Google's cafeteria, for instance, attracts some of the best culinary talent some of whom go on to become celebrity chefs in their google after life. Others such as the Stratton mountain ski-resort cheerily refer to their cafeteria as "caf" and promote it as a place where "we can all call our own with friendly faces, internet access, and food. Mingle with the folks you may not encounter on the job and deepen your connection to Stratton."

However, neither Google nor Stratton nor any other workplace seems to have invested in sleep spaces where employees can take cat-naps known by its more corporately acceptable moniker of power-nap.  Even if the corporate mindset were to come around to putting nap-breaks on the same continuum as lunch and coffee-breaks space limitations may well crimp the ability to set-aside a nap-room unless innovations of the kind put together by MetroNaps a company that claims to have invested in "years of research and thousands of design hours" to come up the EnergyPod, a pod with a space-age look that combines a built-in music player with headphone jack helps to eliminate surrounding distractions as well as a timer to ensure employees don't turn a snooze into a slumber. In major metropolitan areas like Manhattan there are also power-nap spas such as Yelo-spa which offer relatively affordable naps in their "cocooned" treatment rooms. 

Given the relative paucity of options, clearly more corporates with a focus on employee welfare need to take initiatives to enhance productivity by devoting their energies including time and money in this sphere.

Published by

Vijay Dandapani

Co-founder and president of a New York based hotel company for 24 years. Grew the firm to five hotels in Manhattan and also developed a greenfield project at MacArthur airport, New York. Speaker at numerous prestigious forums including Economy Hotels World Asia, Lodging Conference, NYU, Columbia University Real Estate Roundtable, Baruch College's Zicklin School and ALIS. President and ceo of New York City Hotel Association since January 2017.

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