Tech workers. Construction workers. Government workers. What do all these employees have in common?
Many of them are falling asleep on the job.
One in 5 employees reported sleeping at work, according to a recent survey of more than 1,000 employees across various industries conducted by Amerisleep, a mattress company based in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Seventy percent of tech workers—the highest percentage of all workers surveyed—admitted to sleeping during work hours and reported spending more than 11 percent of their workday sleeping. The construction industry had the next highest percentage of workers who reported sleeping on the job—68 percent, even though 66 percent of them admitted that sleeping while at work is prohibited.
Other industries where more than 50 percent of employees reported sleeping at work were government and public administration, finance and insurance, information services and data processing, manufacturing, transportation and warehousing, and medical and health care.
Reasons for Being Tired at Work
Stressful jobs may be causing sleepiness at work.
"While most people associate tiredness and fatigue with exercising the body, it can also be caused by exercising the mind," explained Steve Wang, an HR consultant based in Chicago. "Certain jobs that require heavy critical thinking and technical expertise exhaust the human brain. As a result, employees [who are] constantly put in these types of scenarios are more prone to falling asleep at work."
A 2017 Gallup report showed that 70 percent of U.S. employees are disengaged at work, which also might contribute to workers falling asleep on the job.
"I'm sure there are employees who fall asleep because they are disengaged or not into their work," Wang said.
But, Wang said, most of the time employees are prone to falling asleep at work because they simply aren't getting enough rest. People in the U.S. in general tend to be sleep-deprived, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
"Probably the primary reason people are falling asleep in the workplace is related to sleep deficiency or sleep deprivation," said Richard Gillum, a dentist and sleep apnea expert in Greenwood, Ind. "When you have sleep apnea, you don't sleep well, so you're tired."
Is Sleeping on the Job OK—or Not?
There are instances when sleeping at work is permitted. For instance, an employee may make a request under the Americans with Disabilities Act to nap periodically during the workday because of a medical condition or treatment, according to Aaron Tandy, partner and head of the employment law section of Pathman Lewis LLC in Miami.
But if a crane operator on a construction site falls asleep while on the job, HR professionals need to talk with the employee and assess whether there's a safety risk involved, Tandy said.
"You should also have a conversation about whether their sleeping is part of a larger issue that needs to be addressed by a doctor and therefore might ultimately need to be accommodated," Tandy said. "I know of a company where one of the employees was found sleeping. It turned out that they were suffering from migraine headaches. It turned out that those headaches were caused by an inflammation on their brain. And, by having the conversation and confronting them and actually sending them to the doctor, the employer, I think, contributed to their being still alive."
Using Nap Time at Work to Rejuvenate Employees
Some employers encourage sleep as a way for employees to recharge.
Jim Angleton, president for Aegis FinServ Corp., a financial firm based in Miami, decided that providing a benefit for employees to nap at work was good for productivity and morale.
In 2014, he purchased a sleeping pod for his employees; 60 percent of his employees take advantage of it.
"Employees use it during lunch hours to reserve a 20-minute nap and relaxation period. It refreshes their eyes and resets their body clock," Angleton said.
Angleton said his employees working the night shift love the sleeping pod.
"Every company that is open 24/7 should offer this option," he said.
"We understand that working while tired generally decreases productivity, short-circuits creativity and increases the frequency of careless mistakes," Wang said. To combat this, he noted, some companies have a place where employees can go to take midday rests and breaks.
When to Discipline, When to Accommodate
When an employee sleeps on the job, a manager's first task is to ascertain the reason for the fatigue: Is the worker hung over because of late-night partying or a second job? Is he suffering from a medical condition such as narcolepsy or sleep apnea? Does she use prescribed drugs or undergo medical procedures that leave her tired? Is he experiencing unusual stress or anxiety that makes it hard to sleep? Perhaps life events—like a newborn—mean the worker is pulling all-nighters.
Once a manager has identified the reason for the sleepiness, the next task is deciding how best to address it
—whether that means discipline, support for the worker or something else.
Elaina Loveland is a freelance writer based in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.