Don’t Lose Sleep Over It: Employee Wellness and Daylight Savings

Joetta L. Wagner | | Change Management

countries around the world switch to and from daylight savingsEvery year, the United States and 69 countries in Europe and Asia turn the clocks forward by an hour for Daylight Savings Time (DST). The same group turns the clocks backward by one hour for Standard Time months later, impacting sleep cycles again. It’s a disruptor to employee sleep patterns worldwide, which means it’s impacting employee wellness worldwide. More and more, business organizations are using employee wellness programs to boost productivity and improve the employee experience. Those same programs are also starting to acknowledge just how important sleep is to personal wellness.

Why Daylight Savings Time?

Despite what many people believe, introducing Daylight Savings Time had absolutely nothing to do with the agricultural industry. It was actually spurred on by World War I. It was introduced in 1918, stopped a year later and was resurrected for World War II. Then in 1966, Congress passed the Uniform Time Act to mandate exactly when DST would start and stop countrywide. Still, not all of the United States observe Daylight Savings Time. Most of Arizona, all of Hawaii, and the US territories of Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the US Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands don’t spring forward or fall back. For those outside the US, the dates of the changes vary by country (which makes coordinating calls and virtual meetings a special challenge for international companies).

Issues Related to Changing the Clocks

First and foremost, the twice-yearly change wreaks havoc on circadian rhythms. Let’s take a quick look at the science behind it. Michael J. Breus, a clinical psychologist and specialist in sleep disorders notes: “Moving our clocks in either direction changes the principal time cue – light – for setting and resetting our 24-hour natural cycle, or circadian rhythm. In doing so, our internal clock becomes out of sync or mismatched with our current day-night cycle.“

DST effectively moves an hour’s worth of light to the evening, taking that light away from the morning. When you disrupt the light, the impact can be as devastating as major diseases like cancer, heart disease and diabetes. How can you and your wellness programs help employees adjust?

What Does This Mean for Employee Wellness Programs in the Workplace?

daylight savings impacts employee wellness around the worldOne aspect employee wellness programs should be geared towards is helping employees establish and maintain healthy sleep habits. The effects of Daylight Savings Time are widespread for workers. It can cause sleep deprivation. The toll on mental health includes an increase in the number of suicides after it occurs. The strain of the change brings a higher risk of heart attacks. The Monday after DST is also marked by increases in the number and severity of workplace injuries and in fatal car accidents.

According to Pew Research, most workers in America (107.8 million people, or 71% of all non-farm payroll employees) are in the service sector. The scope and severity of health issues in office-based employment is likely lower than those encountered in more physically demanding jobs. But either way, the effects of Daylight Savings Time are nothing to laugh at.

Combating Daylight Savings

There are a number of things HR can do to help employees adjust to the time change. The biggest thing you can do is be patient. It can take up to a week for someone’s internal clock to adjust to the new rhythm of life. The combination of work schedules, exposure to light and dark times, exercise and meal times affect circadian rhythms. Health and safety issues heighten during the early part of Daylight Savings Time, when employees are more fatigued than normal. For those driving to and from work, vigilance should be increased. If it’s possible to allow added flexibility to workers’ schedules, do so. Make it easier for employees to work from home if needed. Don’t dock workers for being a little late during a one-week grace period after the change. They won’t be rushing on too little sleep which will reduce the risk they’ll have accidents along the way.

It’s a little late for the switch in the US this year, but next time around advise that adjusting to the time change should be done a bit at a time. For three days prior to the change, employees should get up, eat, exercise or otherwise engage in their normal morning routine about 15-20 minutes earlier each day to help their body adjust. Dimming the lights and staying away from bright screens like computers helps the body get used to new waking and sleeping times. Encourage employees to take breaks when they feel their focus waning staring at a computer at work.

Regardless of which direction Daylight Savings is going, make sleep a priority of your employee wellness program. Someone who’s well rested can better cope with the time change.

However You Cope, Communicate

Prepare for changes like this and help workers recover quicker by providing employees with information they can easily access. Our digital postcard campaigns are great for this kind of communication. You can post reminders and information to online employee benefits portals too. When building a DST survival guide, consider including employee wellness tips like going to bed earlier on Saturday and Sunday nights to help recalibrate the body’s sleep patterns or not drinking alcohol prior to going to bed, as alcohol can also disrupt sleep patterns.

Around the office, you can help prepare by sending out company-wide reminders to adjust clocks (though most update automatically at this point). Are there microwaves or other analog clocks in employee workspaces that they can help adjust? If the company has some sort of hazardous work planned, try to schedule it for late in the week, or for the following week. Remind employees who commute to be especially aware of driving dangers for the week after the time change. (Also keep this info in mind for anyone whose job involves driving like delivery drivers.) For those performing manual labor, for the week following the time change try encouraging a series of stretches or exercises at the start of a shift to make sure everyone’s awake and reduce the risk of injury.

Human resources has tools to keep employees both safe and happy, whatever time it is.

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