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 symptoms:

  • 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 1989
  • 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 demanding.
  • Schedule eight-hour shifts five times a week or 10-hour shifts four days a week, especially for night shifts.
  • 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.
  • 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 deprivation.
  • 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.

Contact Argento CPA today!


Disclaimer: BUSINESS MATTERS deals with a number of complex issues in a concise manner; it is recommended that accounting, legal or other appropriate professional advice should be sought before acting upon any of the information contained therein.
 Although every reasonable effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this letter, no individual or organization involved in either the preparation or distribution of this letter accepts any contractual, tortious, or any other form of liability for its contents or for any consequences arising from its use.
BUSINESS MATTERS is prepared bimonthly by the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada for the clients of its members.
Richard Fulcher, CPA, CA – Author; Patricia Adamson, M.A., M.I.St. – CPA Canada Editor.
Contact us: