Flexi-fatigue: exhausted workers can't switch on at the office or switch off at home, new research finds

Many officer workers found their quality of sleep had suffered when working from home.
Many officer workers found their quality of sleep had suffered when working from home.

Working in your pyjamas or from the comfort of your bed might seem harmless, but they're some of the most common actions that blur the boundaries between work and home life for flexible workers, according to the sleep experts.

New research from specialist in healthy sleep training, Integrated Safety Support, revealed bad flexible work habits during the COVID-19 pandemic have created an outbreak of poor quality sleep and fatigue among Australian office workers.

The study of 1,000 Australian "white-collar" workers, found the majority reported their sleep quality had suffered in the past year, with increased fatigue and an inability to separate work and home life causing major issues with productivity, particularly for women and under 25s.

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Dr Adam Fletcher, Integrated Safety Support CEO, (and ex-US military sleep researcher with experience training high-performance teams, soldiers, airline pilots, CEOs and safety-critical workers) said the research showed business leaders needed to take sleep more seriously.

"Sleep issues and fatigue can have a severe impact on employee health and wellbeing, contributing to burnout and even mental health challenges," Dr Fletcher said.

"Unfortunately, not enough business leaders are taking responsibility for creating a healthy sleep culture with their teams. By supporting flexible work, businesses are essentially setting up an office in their employees' homes, so its critical they put the training and processes in place to create healthy work-life balance."

The latest Sleep Foundation survey found the cost of inadequate sleep in Australia is $66.3 billion - $26.2 billion in financial costs and $40.1 billion in the loss of wellbeing.

The challenge of separating work and home life for flexible workers was stark, with more than one in three checking emails right before bed (38 per cent), working in their pyjamas (35 per cent) and even working from their bed (31 per cent). The bad habits didn't end there either, with more than two in five working all day at home without going out for fresh air (45 per cent) or skipping lunch or other meals while working (41 per cent).

"We recommend maintaining healthy morning and bedtime routines, like manufacturing a commute by taking a morning walk while listening to a podcast, or packing up your desk and putting your mug away, to signal the end of work."

"One positive work from home behaviour our research identified was that almost one in three (31 per cent) said they had taken a nap during the workday. A 10 to 15-minute nap is a great way to re-energise during work time, delivering measurable benefits, including improved short-term memory, improved alertness and faster reaction times."

Young workers can't physically separate work and sleep

The research found a lack of dedicated workspace for workers under 25 had some significant knock-on effects. They are twice as likely to work from their bed (55 per cent) or bedroom (56 per cent) than over 25-year-olds. Gen Z office workers were also far more likely to have forgone fresh air or skip meals.

Women getting less quality sleep

The study found significantly more female office workers working from home reported below average sleep quality (females 35 per cent, males 25 per cent) and sleep quantity than males, with 43 per cent saying they average less than six hours sleep each night compared to their male counterparts (35 per cent). Surprisingly, more than one in five female flexible office workers (21 per cent) reported averaging less than five hours sleep each night - well below the recommended eight hours - and reported higher levels of fatigue (65 per cent) as a result compared to males (60 per cent).

Alcohol and caffeine sabotaging sleep

More than three in five (62 per cent) flexi workers revealed they drink alcohol in the evening as a way to disconnect from work and to help fall asleep. The study also found a concerning reliance on caffeine, with more than two thirds (70 per cent) of white-collar workers saying they need coffee to be productive and get through the day with one in five saying (19 per cent) saying they drink it well into the evening as well.

  • Findings from Integrated Safety Support
This story Flexi-fatigue: hidden dangers of working in PJs from your bed first appeared on The Canberra Times.