In this era of unrivaled volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, employee engagement has become a top challenge in virtually every workplace on the planet. A 2016 Gallup poll indicated that only 32 percent of U.S. workers surveyed said they were engaged at their jobs, and that number shrank to a mere 13 percent when the rest of the world was factored in.
Oddly enough, a company’s top performers tend to be the least engaged workers of the bunch, which naturally results in financial implications that cannot be ignored. According to the Association for Talent Development, employee disengagement costs American businesses somewhere between $450 billion and $550 billion every year.
All of this interests me as a brain researcher, practicing psychiatrist and entrepreneur. And, along these lines, my studies and personal experiences have led me to a rather unconventional — but scientifically sound — solution for boosting workplace engagement: napping.
The power of napping
In my recent book, Tinker Dabble Doodle Try: Unlock the Power of the Unfocused Mind, I explained why napping can be a panacea for the working brain. Skeptical? I get it: You’re probably thinking that snoozing on the job indicates laziness and a reluctance to work rather than an investment in work.
But if you nap strategically and tinker with factors such as duration and setting, you will likely notice a drastic difference in your (and your team’s) engagement levels.
Why? Because the human brain can only take so much focus. Over time, focus will inevitably wreak havoc on your mind and deplete your energy — and once that happens, you’ll struggle to muster the motivation to drive your company to success. The prediction circuits in your brain will shut down. You’ll fail to recognize the competition in the wings. And your “self” circuits — the areas that determine your emotional control and self-awareness — will fizzle.
Strategic napping, however, has the capacity to stop these disasters in their tracks. Progressive companies such as Google, HubSpot and Huffington Post have already begun to recognize this fact and implement nap areas in their offices.
Here’s a deeper look at three big benefits you and your team could reap from sleeping on the job:
1. Quick, clear decision-making
In the information era, every workplace can easily fall victim to analysis paralysis. In a 2010 survey, LexisNexis found that 62 percent of employees responding said they believed the quality of their work suffered because they were overwhelmed with information. Today, nearly a decade later, you can be sure that the rise of big data and analytics has only made daily decision-making even more difficult.
The next time you or someone on your team feels overwhelmed by a big decision, suggest a five- to 20-minute nap. Science has proven that short snoozes help the brain think more clearly and react more quickly for up to three hours. Naps release an elixir of brain chemicals that reactivate “wake-active” brain cells — neurons that fire to keep the brain feeling fresh, engaged and on high alert once we awaken.
2. A zest for learning
With the business world evolving at breakneck speed, today’s business leaders and employees find themselves on a never-ending quest for new knowledge and skills. To cite one experience we all have in common, as soon as any of us feel comfortable navigating a particular piece of software, our company will invest in a new and better platform that provides yet another unique learning curve. This constant change can easily overwhelm the brain and drain employees of their motivation.
But, fortunately, in addition to providing much-needed rest, naps (science has proven), promote the “baking in” of memories. When we awaken, we feel an extra dose of clarity and certainty about the knowledge we gained before we fell asleep, and we feel more prepared to ingest new information. Further, science has also shown that 60- to 90-minute naps improve one’s ability to learn through observation.
With that in mind, consider making naps a vital part of your training program. A midday nap will help brand-new employees digest and retain the information entering their brains from all angles — and boost their motivation along the way.
3. Improved self-confidence
Let’s face it: It isn’t uncommon for our workdays to be filled with more negative experiences than positive ones — and this can really sap our self-confidence.
In 2014, the Pew Research Center asked nearly 50,000 workers across the globe a simple question: “How would you describe your day today?” Shockingly, just 27 percent of respondents said they were having a “good” day. The vast majority were having either an “average” or “bad” day.
When you or someone on your team is feeling out of sorts, napping can provide a much-needed morale boost. In fact, 90 minutes of sleep improves the connections within your brain’s unfocus circuit — a key circuit involved in self-awareness.
Although napping removes the individual from his or her primary task at hand, it will help any demoralized team member regain his or her footing. It washes away nagging negative memories and provides the motivation to get back up and tackle what lies ahead.
So . . . here’s your doctor’s note: It’s time to explore these benefits and write a napping policy into your own company’s handbook. Communicate the wide variety of advantages naps provide — from clarity to creativity to confidence — and encourage your employees to build a short snooze into their day. The time expended could be as short as five minutes or as long as 90 minutes, depending on the scenario and intended outcome.
Finally, sign this petition so that napping policies can become the norm and help protect your — and your team’s — brain.