Employers looking to welcome employees back to the office after two years away will need to adapt to some of their new workday customs, including the midday nap.
While staff snoozing at work may not sound like something managers should encourage, studies show a midday siesta may not only be healthy for employees but also boost their productivity after they wake.
“Not only does it help your immunity, but there is very clear evidence that it increases your cognitive processing, your cognitive thinking and your creative thinking,” says Dallas-based sleep expert James Maas, who is credited with popularizing the term “power nap.”
Some companies and co-working spaces offer nap rooms, while people who live near the office might be able to go home briefly for their midday rest.
Forward-thinking employers may want to consider creating a nap room or quiet area for staff looking to ease back into the office environment. It’s already a common workspace feature of information age companies where hours can be long and deadline-driven.
In the pre-COVID era, companies like Google Canada and Accenture offered napping facilities or quiet rooms, as did some postsecondary institutions such as Centennial College, Humber College and the British Columbia Institute of Technology.
A nap room might even help companies attract and retain talent: A Digital.com survey of U.S. work-from-home employees found that nearly three-quarters want to be able to take a nap or exercise during the workday.
Mr. Maas is a big proponent of sleeping on the job – in small and approved doses.
“The research is very, very clear,” Dr. Maas says. “Nearly 70 per cent of the work force is sleep-deprived, meaning they are accident-prone, their immunity is lower than it should be and their cognitive processing is bad. People make mistakes, they have accidents and they get sick easier.
“So companies should be looking at the bottom line and see the improvement that happens when you allow people to get adequate sleep and napping – even if you don’t fall asleep or just meditate for 15 minutes, it helps.”
A recent survey from the U.S.-based Better Sleep Council found that one in five working adults take a workday nap, and the home-based/hybrid workers are more than two times more likely to nap. It also found napping is more prevalent among younger workers: Generation Z are 3.4 times and millennials are 2.5 times more likely to take naps during the workday than boomers.
Sleep is such a big deal that even Ottawa keeps track of our sleep habits through Statistics Canada studies and other reports. In a 2019 report, the government said one in four adults 18 to 34 were not getting enough sleep and older working-age adults (35 to 64) fared even worse, with one in three not sleeping the recommended 7 to 9 hours per night.
Sleep quality for Canadian adults is also an issue, with half of adults reporting difficulty going to sleep or staying asleep and one in three having trouble staying awake during the day.
Given a tight labour market and the predominance of younger workers today, adding sleep-friendly policies could be a competitive advantage for employers trying to staff up again, says Cary Brown, a professor of rehabilitation medicine specializing in sleep issues with the University of Alberta.
“Accommodating naps for some may help businesses maintain a healthy bottom line, so it should be seen as an investment in productivity,” she says.
A major focus for the University of Alberta researcher is the rise of “long COVID,” which she estimates affects as many as 10 per cent of workers currently. The syndrome often presents as fatigue and “cognitive fog.”
“Napping can help reduce that cognitive fog for some people,” Ms. Brown says. “Couple this with the labour shortage; there is not a ready labour pool to replace people who develop long COVID. My thinking is that employers will have to develop flexible policies to accommodate some people who actually need to nap if they are to be able to work. Otherwise, they run the risk of losing skilled, productive and experienced workers.”
While adding nap time to the workday provides clear benefits and may prove to be an attractive perk for employees, organizations must make it a part of the corporate culture that promotes employee wellness.
“Do I think that having a nap in the middle of the day is fantastic? Absolutely,” says Bruce Mayhew a Toronto-based corporate trainer. “If you are looking at nap rooms from a healthy lifestyle perspective, then I think it should be included with a whole bunch of other things like time management, like healthy eating, going to the gym, getting up and going for a walk or limiting [off hours] e-mails.
Mr. Mayhew, who also specializes in generational differences in workplaces, notes that younger managers may be more supportive of workplace innovations and be willing to embrace napping on the job.
“Many of the boomers are out of leadership now, you are dealing with Gen X and millennials that are the bulk of the leaders today, so there are few people with that ‘bums in seats’ mentality,” he says.