Arianna Huffington devotes almost the entire first half of her book, Sleep Revolution, to scary facts, figures and the consequences of sleep deprivation to people and businesses. You only have to read the first paragraph, in which she tells the story of Sarvshreshth Gupta, to understand the extent of the crisis. Mr. Gupta was the first-year analyst at Goldman Sachs who jumped from his San Francisco high-rise office building in 2015. He had been working through the night to finish a presentation and told his father by phone that he hadn’t slept in two days and was working 100-hour weeks.
The causes of suicide are extremely complex and not typically attributable to any one factor. The point Huffington makes is that lack of sleep affects a person’s decision-making ability. Promotion of corporate cultures that reward long-hours and overwork endanger employees’ wellbeing. Mr. Gupta’s death is a tragic and extreme example.
Challenging America’s love affair with overwork begins with leadership. Bad examples of leadership are everywhere. My personal favorite is the commercial banking executive with whom I worked in Dallas. His favorite phrase to motivate his team to endure long hours at the office was, “I didn’t see my kids when they were growing up – there’s no reason you should expect to see yours!” He always said it with a big laugh, as if it was a joke. But everyone got the point. He wasn’t joking.
Fortunately, Ms. Huffington provides many examples of CEOs who understand the benefits of balancing physical and mental health and the importance of getting enough quality sleep to recharge and replenish a person’s energy level. Many executives are also driven by the business need to create recruitment and retention strategies that are competitive.
Examples of workplace practices that encourage employees to get enough rest:
In addition to HuffPost, Ben & Jerry’s, Zappos, Hubspot, Hootsuite and Nike provide nap rooms in their workplaces.
Volkswagen, BMW and Deutsche Telekom turn off company email servers after the workday is finished.
And, Goldman Sachs now restricts investment banking interns from working overnight in the office.
The most effective strategy for changing corporate culture is still to lead-by-example. Arianna Huffington is clearly an example of an executive who is successful while practicing good sleep habits. So are Campbell Soup’s CEO, Denise Morrison and Google’s Chairman, Eric Schmidt.
And then there’s the Oracle of Omaha:
“When forced to choose, I will not trade even a night’s sleep for the chance of extra profits.”
– Warren Buffet