I Am So Tired



Lack of sleep can reduce productivity, increase absenteeism
and add to the risk of accidents and errors on
the job.

Changing Times

More and more we are increasing the number of hours
we work. In a 2012 study, Human Resources and Social
Development Canada found that we now devote 10% of
each 24-hour day to paid work compared with 8.7% in
1976, an increase of 14.9%. We also spend a lot of time
getting to and from work. According to Statistics Canada’s
National Household Survey for 2011, 15.4 million
people commuted to work and 1.1 million worked from
home most of the time. The average time to get to work
was 25.4 minutes but many people in Toronto, Montreal,
the Abbotsford-Mission area of British Columbia
and their surrounding communities spent an hour or
more getting to work. A similar amount of time was
spent getting home.

Dr. Meir Kryger, MD, a former professor of medicine
at the University of Manitoba says people who
do not sleep well are more apt to show the following

  • frequent sleepiness
  • nodding off
  • difficulty with concentration
  • memory lapses
  • poor performance
  • mood changes

Lack of sleep upsets natural body rhythms.

Working outside the normal daylight hours of 7
a.m. to 6 p.m. upsets the physical, psychological and
behavioural changes in our bodies known as circadian
rhythms. Although we are hardwired to sleep at
night and be active during the day, people often work
outside this range. The longer time spent working
and commuting means personal chores must be done
outside the 7-to-6 norm thereby frustrating the body’s
need for sleep.

Potential Catastrophic Consequences

Sleep deprivation is often portrayed as an achievement.
A co-worker brags about working until 11 p.m. at night
or a student pulls an “all-nighter”. In most situations,
lack of sleep does not end with tragedy; however,
investigators determined that in the following three
instances, lack of sleep contributed to a catastrophe:

  • Exxon Valdez oil spill off the coast of Alaska in
  • Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania, nuclear meltdown
    of 1979
  • NASA’s Challenger disaster of 1986

Impact on Workers

Long hours and shift work may lead to depression,
occupational injury and poorer overall health. Unfortunately
for the employer, they can reduce productivity,
increase absenteeism, and potentially add to compensation
costs. The result is often higher attrition by
employees who can no longer tolerate the stress.

Shared Responsibility

Employee and employer are both responsible for maintaining
job performance and safety. Employees are
responsible for getting sufficient sleep and for recognizing
that lack of sleep will affect performance.

Unfortunately for employers, the ultimate responsibility
for errors or accidents rests with the employer
through the legal principle of vicarious liability.
When comedian Tracy Morgan sued Walmart after a
Walmart truck struck his limousine, Morgan’s lawyers
alleged the Walmart driver had gone without sleep
for 24 hours. Walmart, not the driver, settled for an
undisclosed amount.

Is There a Solution?

Most provinces legislate the maximum number of
hours a driver can operate a vehicle. But beyond these
limits, there are few guidelines. Owner-managers
should, in co-operation with employees, establish
guidelines to ensure that a responsible program is in
place to reduce the risk to employees and third parties.
Consider the following:

  • Break every one or two hours if the task is
  • Schedule eight-hour shifts five times a week or
    10-hour shifts four days a week, especially for night
  • Avoid 12-hour shifts for physically or mentally
    challenging tasks.
  • Schedule two full days of rest for employees who
    work five consecutive days of eight-to-10 hour shifts.
  • Schedule two full days of rest for employees who
    work three 12-hour shifts.
  • Educate employees and management as to the
    impact of shift work and lack of sleep on their
    personal and working lives.
  • Teach employees how to identify indicators of sleep
  • Ensure employees that, if they feel the work
    schedule is impacting performance or safety, they
    can speak up and management will offer assistance
    without retribution.
  • Determine whether an incident has occurred as a
    result of fatigue. By formalizing incident reports,
    employees and employers may discover that the
    timetable contributes to errors or accidents.

Lack of Sleep Affects Everything

Productivity, performance, employee job satisfaction
and customer relations can all be negatively impacted
by a desire to put in longer hours at the expense of
much-needed sleep. Working together with employees
and establishing work patterns that allow sufficient
time for rest will cut employee absenteeism, reduce
the chance of on-the-job accidents or errors, minimize
the cost of WSIB or related claims and consequently
improve the bottom line.



The information provided on this page is intended to provide general information. The information does not take into account your personal situation and is not intended to be used without consultation from accounting and financial professionals. Allan Madan and Madan Chartered Accountant will not be held liable for any problems that arise from the usage of the information provided on this page.


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