Urgent message: While many rising managers believe there is virtue to “burning the midnight oil,” in reality they may be setting a bad example that undermines their team’s motivation, effectiveness, and even ethics, while putting their own health at risk.
Alan A. Ayers, MBA, MAcc is Chief Executive Officer of Velocity Urgent Care and is Practice Management Editor of The Journal of Urgent Care Medicine.
Great managers are always looking for ways to improve, become better leaders, and be more effective. What if it was as easy as going to bed? Interestingly enough, this might be one of the best ways to be a better manager.
Sleep—and enough of it—is crucial to living a healthy and productive life. The health benefits are well documented and should be more than enough to convince even the stoutest of night-owls. Unfortunately, many managers are in the habit of “burning the midnight oil,” and don’t get nearly enough sleep. According to Harvard researchers, 68% of middle managers get only 5 to 7 hours per night of sleep. And it seems that this piece of data is directly tied to how they approach their jobs: when they end the work day without having completed all their tasks, they tend to take it out of their sleep.1 However, especially in a fast-paced, high-pressure environment like urgent care, this constant sleep deprivation cultivates leaders who are less effective and who negatively affect the performance of their teams.
Spreading the Unrest
Though it may seem that sleep deprivation affects only the individual who isn’t getting enough shut-eye each night, it actually spreads much further. A recent Harvard Business Review study found that leaders who were suffering from a lack of sleep were more impatient, irritable, and likely to lose patience with employees.2 Even worse, the managers in the study were completely unaware of the problems they were causing.
Interestingly, the research found that the leaders with less sleep spread their poor habits to their employees. Employees watch and often emulate the “boss,” so if the boss is pulling late nighters, the example is set for employees to follow. If performance follows suit, that could be an even bigger problem; managers tasked with giving a motivational speech on leadership received lower scores than those who got a proper amount of sleep. And in another study, employees who worked for a sleep-deprived manager and/or were sleep deprived themselves were found to act less ethically in a variety of scenarios.3,4
Of course, leaders know that problems such as this can lead to unrest among employees if they go unchecked. A manager who is unfocused, inattentive, or just plain grumpy due to lack of sleep is in no shape to guard against a poor company culture that could breed dishonesty, bad morale, and poorly motivated staff.
Negative Effects of Sleep Deprivation for the Individual
There is no doubt that a lack of sleep can wreak havoc on the human body. This is backed by countless scientific studies and the daily interactions of millions of people dealing with sleepy coworkers and classmates.
Without the recommended 7 to 9 hours per night, you wake up feeling grumpy, tired, and less alert. Just as a poor diet and lack of exercise, decreased sleep has also been associated with other conditions like heart disease and obesity, as well as increased risk for infection. Other negative effects of sleep deprivation include:
- Psychological risks: Less sleep puts you at risk for issues like depression, impulsive behavior, and even suicidal thoughts.
- Decreased immunity: Those who are sleep deprived have a decreased immune system, leaving them more vulnerable to illnesses and slowing recovery times.
- Digestive problems: Not enough sleep might provoke diet and digestive problems due to a decrease of hormones that leave you feeling hungry and snacking late at night.
- Decreased teamwork: Leaders who don’t get enough sleep are less likely to collaborate with team members and are worse at working in teams to solve problems.
The Benefits of Getting Enough Sleep
While lack of sleep can cause health problems, getting enough of it can be very good for your health. In fact, it is an easy step that everyone can take, with no vitamins, pills, or expenses related to it. The simple act of lying down a little earlier can be the first step toward improving your health and your effectiveness as an urgent care leader.
For one, sleep reduces the stress that managers face every day. It also makes you more alert, an important trait for those in a position of leadership. These are some of the other benefits of getting the right amount of sleep each night:
- Heart health: More sleep has been positively associated with decreased risk for heart disease and stroke compared to those who don’t get 7-9 hours nightly.
- Weight loss: Instead of snacking at night time, those who sleep more can see weight loss thanks to increased levels of positive hormones like ghrelin and leptin.
- Improved memory: During stages of deep sleep, your brain has time to process events and make memories and links between the day’s events. This can foster more creativity and better problem-solving skills.
The relationship between sleep and career success for management is clear: the more senior one is in an organization, the more likely they are to be getting a full night’s sleep. This is not a coincidence—strong leaders realize sleep is critical to their strong performance and thus make sleep a priority.1
The idea that an urgent care leader can add “productive” hours to their day by foregoing sleep is an illusory one, especially in the long term when it results in overall less effectiveness and undermining subordinates. By contrast, the most successful leaders recognize the value of sleep to themselves and their teams and thus take steps to improve the quantity and quality of their sleep.
- Hougaard R, Carter J. Senior executives get more sleep than everyone else. Harvard Business Review. February 28, 2018. Available at: https://hbr.org/2018/02/senior-executives-get-more-sleep-than-everyone-else. Accessed January 7, 2019.
- Barnes CM. Sleep well, lead better. Harvard Business Review. September–October 2018. Available at: https://hbr.org/2018/09/sleep-well-lead-better. Accessed January 7, 2019.
- Barnes CM. Opinion: a sleep deprived workforce is an unethical workforce. Puget Sound Business Journal. Available at: https://www.bizjournals.com/seattle/news/2018/11/06/opinion-a-sleep-deprived-workforce-is-an-unethical.html. Accessed January 7, 2019.
- Barnes CM, Gunia BC, Wagner DT. Sleep and moral awareness. J Sleep Res. 2014;24(2):181-188.