Work can be exhausting. Clocking in every day, doing work that doesn’t make us excited, and thinking about unrelated life issues can all cause us to zone out at work. Before you know it, a session to rest your eyes becomes a full-blown office nap.
According to a recent survey of over 1,000 employees across various industries, one in 5 reported sleeping at work. In general, sleeping as an activity (or, to be more precise – an absence of activity) isn’t a problem – we spend almost a third of our daily lives sleeping. When it becomes a problem, it happens on the job. Employees don’t usually want to fall asleep at work, but sometimes the circumstances lead to it.
The sleeping taboo
Sleeping at work may sound like a taboo, but until recently, it was actually considered the norm by many businesses. Police officers in New York frequently took power naps throughout their shifts, and in Japan, it is seen as total dedication to work if you are sleeping on the job. In fact, the Japanese use the term “inemuri“ to describe sleeping at work, which means ‘present whilst sleeping’.
Naps as a productivity driver
While napping at work can be detrimental, it doesn’t have to be. Many companies like Google, Ben & Jerry’s, Cisco, and Zappos have policies allowing for naps at work.
Studies have shown that short naps can enhance alertness, concentration, and response speed while improving mental performance and memory. Short naps have also been related to higher levels of productivity and creativity.
If the naps aren’t creating a safety risk, employee output is higher, and your employees are happier, you are creating a fantastic work environment by allowing the occasional on-the-job nap.
Is falling asleep at work gross misconduct?
It’s a common assumption that sleeping on the job might be automatic grounds for dismissal. After all, an employee is being paid to work- not catch some shuteye. However, the situation’s context and the work’s nature are key factors.
As an isolated incident, sleeping at work is unlikely to be significant enough to justify dismissing an employee fairly, at least for a first-time offense. When determining whether a dismissal is fair, it will come down to the facts of the particular situation at the time, and the context of the situation is important.
One factor to consider is the type of work the employee does.
For instance, if the employee is operating machinery or equipment potentially dangerous to themselves and/or others, falling asleep on the job or near the machinery may be a serious infringement.
In contrast, if the employee is working in an office, for example, a call center, falling asleep at their desk does not represent a danger to others.
You also need to consider whether the incident is a single isolated offense or a regular occurrence. This is a factor in predicting the likelihood of more on-the-job naps happening in the future.
For one-off incidents with minimal potential business repercussions, it may be best to deal with this informally by way of a quiet chat or verbal warning. Formal disciplinary proceedings may be necessary in more serious cases, where the employee is issued a written warning or other disciplinary action
Can an employee be dismissed for sleeping on the job?
In cases where sleeping on the job, either deliberate or unintentional, gives rise to serious health and safety issues, or has other potentially serious ramifications for the business, there may be grounds to justify dismissal.
If it is evident that sleeping on the job is deliberate and planned, where the employee has consciously chosen to use work time to catch up on sleep ( and especially if a pattern appears), this can be a misconduct issue requiring disciplinary action.
Be aware that if you take this route, your organization’s disciplinary policy should also specify if sleeping on the job constitutes gross misconduct.
If the employee is causing immediate danger to themselves or others, find a way to intervene
Often, when an employee is asleep on the job, they are not a danger to themselves or others. Usually, employees are behind their desks, taking a nap or dozing off. If you notice someone falling asleep at work while using dangerous equipment, you must wake them up and find a way to intervene.
Loop in other people at work to determine the best course of action. Don’t put yourself in harm’s way, and try to minimize any danger to yourself or anyone else involved.
Have the talk
Next, you need to have a conversation with the employee. Most employees don’t fall asleep at work out of dislike for their job. Often it’s due to overwork, medical issues, or stress at home. Chat with your employees to understand what’s driving them to sleep at work. You’ll accomplish more when you approach the issue by trying to understand your employees instead of lashing out at them.
Try to understand their circumstances
Listen with an empathetic ear. Get in their head to see why they fell asleep on the job. Instead of listing all the reasons you’d never fall asleep on the job, give them room to tell their side. You might discover there are things you could do better to support all of your employees.
Don’t assume they are falling asleep to get back at you or make you lose productivity. Consider what your employee has to say, and take it at face value.
Decide on a reasonable course of action
If you do not want to allow employees to nap at work, you need to come up with a reasonable disciplinary measure for sleeping on the job. Termination is not usually a fair punishment for sleeping on the job and could get you into hot water. Instead, a verbal warning or write-up is usually all it takes. If you have someone who habitually sleeps on the job and you’ve made it clear that this behavior is unacceptable, you can take more drastic actions. Be careful and make sure you create a paper trail of evidence and write-ups to back up your termination, though.
Refer to your official policy on employees falling asleep at work
Before you call out an employee for sleeping, refer to your official policy. Seeing an employee who is asleep at their desk may invoke various negative feelings, especially as a boss or company executive.
Instead of lashing out, refer to your documented policies. There are many reasons why an employee might be asleep at work, and you want to ensure that your bases are covered before making any statements. For example, if your employee falls asleep because of a medical issue, your company could be in trouble for firing them.
Work on your company’s work-life balance
Work-life balance is imperative if you want your employees to succeed. If your employees are working on projects every night, it will be hard for them to get the proper rest they need at home. A lack of work-life balance can bleed into work time in unexpected ways. Make sure every team member stops working after hours so they can feel refreshed and ready to tackle another day when it’s time to clock in.
Communicate with your employees often
Last but not least, communicate with your employees often. How can you best support them and their energy levels at work? Do you need to turn the thermostat down, provide a nap room at work, or provide coffee/energy drinks in the break room? Many of us have nodded off because of the environment we are in. During the winter, offices are usually warmer than usual. Warm offices can cause us to be tired due to things like dehydration, trying to cool down, comfort, et cetera. Are you providing an office environment that is conducive to sleep without realizing it?
What small things can you do to help your team be more productive at work?
While everyone has their opinions about napping at work, it isn’t inherently bad. Your employees can nap at work and still accomplish amazing things. The conversation about naps at work needs to be more nuanced. Employees need to follow the rules, but employers need to investigate whether naps would make their office more productive.