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Why Rest Isn't Weakness in the Workplace: A Workplace Wellbeing Series

At our recently concluded monthly workplace wellbeing series this April, we discussed why rest isn't weakness in the workplace", why prioritising rest at work is important and how to create a work culture that prioritises rest.

Here are some key takeaways from the discussion.

Understanding the Biology of Rest

Did you know that our bodies are biologically wired for rest?

Renowned sleep scientist Matthew Walker sheds light on this after studying the brainwave patterns of people during the day. They found that around 3 or 4 PM, our brain waves change similarly to when it's time to sleep, indicating the need for rest.

From circadian rhythms to the accumulation of adenosine, our internal timing signals the need for rest, often around mid-afternoon when brain waves shift and our body temperature drops.

Naps are part of our biology.

Humans and Napping: Historical Perspective

A shephard taking a nap with his sheep grazing quietly in the field

Throughout history, humans have embraced napping as a natural part of our working day. Just envision the image of a shepherd or farmer taking a midday nap—these are common occurrences reflecting our historical relationship with rest. The decline of the workday nap can indeed be linked to the rise of industrialization and the shift towards standardised production methods, particularly in factory settings. During the industrial revolution, productivity became synonymous with efficiency in completing repetitive tasks on assembly lines, where workers were expected to maintain a constant pace of work for long hours without breaks.

In this context, activities like napping were seen as counterproductive to the goals of mass production. Management prioritised output quantity over factors like employee wellbeing, creativity, or innovation. As a result, breaks, including napping, were often discouraged or even actively penalised.

Napping is Sleep

Napping constitutes sleep that occurs outside of our nightly rest. Similar to full sleep cycles, naps offer benefits such as physical recovery and growth hormone release, aiding in muscle fatigue recovery, particularly beneficial during illness or periods of intense physical activity.

Is Napping Beneficial?

The benefits to organisations of encouraging employees to nap are numerous and impactful:

  • Increased Productivity: Napping has been shown to improve alertness, cognitive function, and overall productivity, with NASA research indicating a 34% boost in productivity post-nap.

  • Reduced Errors and Accidents: Fatigue is a significant contributor to workplace errors and accidents.

  • Reduced workplace conflict: Fatigue exacerbates negative emotions such as irritability, frustration, and impatience, as our day progresses tiredness naturally builds. Naps can help regulate emotions by reducing the emotional edge off experiences. Rested employees are better equipped to handle workplace challenges with composure and resilience, leading to smoother interactions and improved relationships with colleagues.

  • Enhanced Creativity and Problem-Solving: Napping has been linked to improved creativity and problem-solving abilities. Naps allow employees to connect concepts in ways the waking mind is unable to, this is the reason attributed to the wealth of amazing innovations that came from a nap such as the periodic table.

  • Healthier Workforce: Chronic sleep deprivation is associated with a range of health problems, including increased risk of heart disease, obesity, and mental health issues. By promoting napping, organisations can help employees maintain better overall health, leading to reduced absenteeism and healthcare costs.

  • Positive Organisational Culture: Napping provides an opportunity for the brain to reset and transition from a state of survival threat detection (often associated with fatigue and stress) to a mode of thriving. By allowing the mind to rest and recharge, naps can help employees approach their work with a more positive and optimistic mindset, ready to engage with tasks and interactions in a constructive manner.

  • Competitive Advantage: Organisations that prioritise employee wellbeing and productivity gain a competitive edge in attracting and retaining top talent.

Overall, encouraging employees to nap can lead to a happier, healthier, and more productive workforce, ultimately benefiting the organisation's bottom line and long-term success.

The Stigma About Napping at Work

We interviewed over 200 professional workers in London and found that 80% were napping at work. This is supported by more recent findings from PlushBeds, they found 80% of the 4,000 employees they spoke to in America were napping at work. Employees are napping at work but everyone is hiding it.

Employees are taking naps during work hours, yet many feel compelled to conceal this practice. The significance of addressing the associated stigma is underscored by the publication in the prominent Oxford sleep journal by leading performance and sleep scientists by Sara E. Alger, Allison J. Brager, and Vincent F. Capaldi, . "Challenging the stigma of workplace napping," highlighting the impact of societal attitudes on performance and wellbeing.

Common Places to Nap due to Stigma

Surprisingly, many individuals are napping at work, with the top locations being the toilet, followed by conference rooms, and cars. Naps are personal and privacy needs often drive these choices, highlighting the need for dedicated rest spaces in the workplace.

What can Organisations do?

Organisations can play a crucial role in promoting the importance of rest and providing resources to support it. Some companies already offer nap spaces, recognising the positive impact on employee wellbeing and productivity.

  • Educate Employees: Provide information and resources on the benefits of napping for productivity, wellbeing, and overall health. Offer workshops, seminars, or informational materials to raise awareness and dispel misconceptions about napping and provide an understanding of what healthy rest looks like.

  • Designate Nap Spaces: Create designated nap areas within the workplace where employees can rest comfortably and privately.

  • Establish Nap Policies: Develop clear policies and guidelines regarding napping in the workplace. Ensure that these policies align with organisational goals and promote a culture of trust and respect for employee well-being.

  • Encourage Nap Breaks: Encourage employees to take regular breaks throughout the day, including short nap breaks if needed. Allowing flexible work arrangements that accommodate individual sleep patterns and preferences.

  • Lead by Example: Demonstrate organisational support for napping by leading by example. Encourage managers and leaders to prioritize their own rest and model healthy work-life balance behaviors. Fostering a culture that values rest and rejuvenation, organisations can create a more positive and productive work environment for all employees.

A rest space nap pod in an office

Embracing rest as a vital component of productivity and well-being is not a sign of weakness but rather a strategic investment in personal and organisational success.

Let's continue to challenge outdated notions and promote a culture that values rest and rejuvenation.

Get in touch if you would like Kate to repeat this session in your organisation or cover a related topic on sleep, rest and work culture.

Join us on May 1st as we discuss extensively on Identifying and Managing Burnout, offering support strategies and actionable tips for organisations to prevent burnout.

Reserve your space here. We look forward to seeing you!


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