The modern day version of “idle hands are the devil's workshop” is “snooze you lose.” This reflects the ever increasing anxiety over falling behind, if we don’t keep busy.
I want to put a new aphorism in circulation: “Snore more.” It’s not great—it’s not even good, as snoring can be both annoying and a health risk—but it makes my point that Americans need more sleep. We are seriously sleep deprived. Surveys show that a third of us get less than the recommended seven to eights of sleep each night. Studies have linked insufficient sleep with car accidents and poor work performance. Sleep deprivation is also related to heart disease, diabetes and sleep loss. A Harvard study estimated that sleep deprivation costs American companies $63.2 billion a year in lost productivity.
Business can’t do much about tucking people in to bed at the right time, but some are taking the data seriously by offering more down time. They recognize that more time at work and being connected to the job outside the workplace is often self-defeating. More hours doesn’t add up to greater efficiency but the opposite.
If a robot grinds on for longer hours, it is more efficient. But human beings reach a point of diminishing returns. In the world of flesh and blood, those who take time for themselves are happier and therefore more productive than those who are driven—to distraction, dissatisfaction, disaffection, the doctor’s office or crazy.
A third of all employees eat lunch at their desks. This isn’t good for the worker or the employer. Recent surveys show that fifty percent expect to work during their vacations. Vacations—real vacations—are essential for the well-being of people and for business. Many businesses reward those who stay after hours, come in early and forgo weekends. But people need time to refresh themselves and cultivate the relationships that sustain them over a lifetime.
There are steps business can take right away. Let people take a breather, encourage more face-to-face meetings and fewer emails within the office. Encourage eating lunch away from the desk. Provide space for naps. Insist that vacation days be taken and don’t bother them while they are on vacation. Create work-free nights and weekends. One large accounting firm found that for each additional 10 hours of vacation employees took, their year-end performance ratings from supervisors improved nearly 10 percent. They also found that those who took frequent vacations were significantly more loyal to the firm.
Worker burn-out is costly to everyone. But it isn’t only workers who are overburdened. So are children. They, too, are sleep deprived and over-worked. Do they really need so much homework? Is it really necessary for them to have reports to do over the summer?
Children need to be children, just as employees need to be people. Both need to be treated as humans. Their lives are worthy as ends in themselves, not as a means towards greater accomplishments or profits.