A BARRAGE of recent research findings on the global sleep crisis confirms what we have always known: Singapore workers are a sleep-deprived lot.
It is an unfortunate side effect of our famously workaholic culture, with some even considering it a badge of honour to sacrifice sleep for work.
More prominent leaders are now sounding the alarm on the need for sleep, and leading the charge is Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post. Her recent book The Sleep Revolution exposes the dangers of modern-day attitudes towards insufficient sleep, and was inspired by her own wake-up call in 2007 when she collapsed from exhaustion.
More companies here are now addressing this issue by taking the lead to offer on-site sleep facilities such as sleep pods or even hammocks for workers to take power naps during work hours.
BT speaks to medical professionals and HR consultants to find out if such a practice can ever be justified in mainstream workplaces here.
You (don't) snooze, you lose
Over the years, Lim Li Ling, medical director of Singapore Neurology and Sleep Centre, has noticed this trend of declining sleep time. The recommended number of sleep hours is between seven and nine.
She warns that over time, sleep deprivation increases the risk of weight gain, high blood pressure, depression, impaired glucose tolerance, heart disease and ultimately a reduced lifespan.
A quick check with local hammock company Airmocks showed that sales to corporations have increased over the past three years. Founder Ernest Ng says that the light-weight, portable hammock is especially popular among SMEs, notably co-working spaces, startups and tech companies, for employees to take naps or just have a rest.
Two firms here with other types of sleeping facilities are SAP Asia and gaming company Garena.
SAP Asia was one of the first companies in Singapore to install an actual nap pod in the office back in 2010, says Jairo Fernandez, senior vice-president of HR at SAP Asia Pacific Japan. It is placed in a quiet corner of the office and fitted with a helmet-like dome for privacy.
"I have seen the nap pod being used on several occasions by employees who would like to take a nap after lunch and pregnant mothers who are tired during the day and would like to have some shut-eye," he tells BT.
As for Garena, the company has 12 sleep pods over the two floors of its office here in Singapore. While called sleep "pods", they are actual beds with pillows, with fresh sheets after each use.
This came as a result of a company-wide poll to find out what amenities staff wanted, with sleep facilities coming up tops. So when the company moved to their new office at One North this year, their employees' suggestions were taken into account and sleep pods were incorporated into the space.
Finding the balance
Power naps are not an indication of weakness or laziness - its virtues have long been noted by medical professionals.
Kenny Pang, sleep specialist at the Asia Sleep Centre, tells BT that allowing sleep-deprived staff to take a nap of not more than 45 minutes during work hours is a "very good culture" as it "really helps concentration and productivity".
But suggesting or mandating such a practice may be difficult for employers who are only concerned with the bottom line, notes Dr Pang, who is also an ear, nose & throat specialist.
In more conservative companies, bosses may keep the traditional mindset that employees are skiving when they take naps at work, while employees worry about making a bad impression.
There is also the possibility that sleep facilities may be abused.
But employers should take a more holistic view towards productivity, says Sebastien Hampartzoumian, senior managing director of recruitment firm PageGroup India and Singapore. He adds that paying attention to employee well-being by allowing pockets of time to rest and relax does not mean compromising work quality.
According to Mollie Kohn, senior partner at Aon Hewitt, this can be achieved by establishing a work culture that focuses on results rather than activity, with proper management systems in place with measurable metrics towards achieving results.
Companies need to realise that "business is not about busy-ness", she adds.
Allowing time and the facility for short naps in the office is a positive step, but these practices must be part of a healthy work culture (both literally and figuratively) that is advocated by management.
"The best practice is to encourage healthy work-life balance, regular time off on weekends and healthy working hours that do not regularly encroach on time for sleep," advises Dr Lim.
After all, it has long been established that working longer hours does not mean greater productivity.
Balancing employee well-being with performance is no easy task, but with a positive work culture in place and performance metrics to measure results, companies are more likely to reap the benefits of a more refreshed and productive workforce.
This article was first published on May 21, 2016.
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