Work & Wellbeing

Surviving the zombie apocalypse: When sleep deprivation becomes a workplace epidemic

3 min read

02 May 2018

Deputy Editor, Real Business

Some of the UK workforce could be deemed office zombies. This is according to Robert Ordever, managing director of O.C. Tanner Europe. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned from the Nicholas Hoult-featured movie Warm Bodies, it’s that the phenomenon can be reversed.

The recovery of human emotion, the movie imagined, can make a zombie’s heart start beating once more. As innovative as Warm Bodies’ take on the genre was, we stand more of a chance at reviving the workforce.

With just 34% of workers feeling rested the next morning, it’s no wonder Ordever believes we all shuffle throughout the day, grumbling as we go along. In fact, of the 476 adults O.C. Tanner Europe interviewed, only 51% described themselves as “fully aware”, even after copious amount of coffee or tea.

While it doesn’t hold apocalyptic consequences, sleep deprivation has a definite impact on business. Ordever pointed out previous research conducted by Public Health England, which found a lack of sleep cost the UK economy £30 billion per annum and 200,000 lost working days every year.

Some 89% of O.C. Tanner Europe’s respondents felt they couldn’t reach their full potential. Others suggested it had already become a workplace epidemic, as only 17% got the recommended eight hours sleep per night.

“Symptoms” of becoming a zombie included poor concentration and decreased communication, they said. Much like the movies indicate, as people go through the zombie transformation stage, an irritable mood and increased levels of sickness persist.

“A lack of sleep is detrimental to business and employees alike,” Ordever explained. “It also damages physical, emotional, social and psychological wellbeing. It’s vital for organisations to work in partnership with staff to encourage healthier lifestyle habits.

“This could include providing employees with wearables and encouraging them to track their sleeping patterns. By rewarding those who take steps to develop healthier habits, this would inspire positive lifestyle changes, leading to a happier and more engaged workforce.”

It’s important to note that zombie workers really can infect others – if someone has literally been bitten, it’s time to rethink who you hire. Rather, bad habits and a negative mood – being tired makes us cranky – have a way of spreading like wildfire.

As Ordever said: “It’s no longer an option for organisations to sit back and ignore the detrimental impacts of poor lifestyle habits, such as lack of sleep. Organisations must encourage change before sleepwalking into a zombie-created catastrophe!”