2 boss habits that hurt your relationship with employees

An alarming number of Americans are not getting enough sleep.

The proportion of Americans sleeping no more than six hours a night (the minimum for a good night's rest) rose from 22% in 1985 to 29% in 2012, according to the National Health Interview Survey. And 42% of leaders get six or fewer hours of sleep a night, according to the Center for Creative Leadership.

The consequences of a bad night's sleep are well known: poor judgement, lack of self-control, and impaired creativity. But sleep deprivation also affects how managers manage, writes Christopher Barnes, an associate professor of management at the University of Washington.

Leaders who sleep poorly, manage poorly, argues Barnes. Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Barnes explains how two sleep habits hurt employee engagement—and how to break them.

Habit 1: You don't get enough sleep

Leaders who don't get enough sleep are more likely to lose patience with employees, act harshly, and behave unethically, writes Barnes.

In one study, Barnes and Cristiano Guarana, an assistant management professor at Indiana University, measured the sleep patterns and relationship quality of 40 managers and their 120 employees over three months. The sleep-deprived leaders were more impatient, irritable, and antagonistic, which damaged their relationships with their team, writes Barnes.

And in a two-week sleep survey of 88 leaders and their subordinates, researchers found that a manger's quality of sleep on a given night influenced his or her self-control and "abusive supervision behavior." A leader's sleep quality also affected how engaged his or her subordinates were in their work the next day.

Also see: A quick way to boost employee engagement? Say "thank you."

Habit 2: You set a poor work-life balance example  

Even if your company prioritizes work-life balance, employees will usually follow in their direct managers' footsteps when it comes to working after hours or while on vacation. This is also true of a leader's sleep habits, writes Barnes.

Barnes and his colleagues examined scenarios where leaders deprioritized sleep in front of employees, for example, by sending late-night emails or praising people who work long hours. Employees pay attention to these cues and adjust their behavior accordingly, writes Barnes. Subordinates of leaders who modeled poor sleep habits got 25 fewer minutes of sleep and were more likely to behave unethically at work, he adds. 

4 strategies to make sure you—and your team—get enough sleep

Monitor your bedtime routine. Stick to a consistent bedtime and wake-up schedule and avoid certain substances (caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine) before bed, recommends Barnes. You can also exercise and meditate to destress and fall asleep easier, he adds.

Put away your smartphone. Constantly looking at electronic devices, like a smartphone, can harm the quality of your sleep. The blue light inhibits the production of a sleep-inducing hormone. "The worst thing you can do is use your phone in bed," warns Barnes.

Embrace the nap. You might view naps at work as a time-waster, but research indicates that just 20 minutes of sleep can speed up cognitive processing, decrease errors, and boost focus. Organizations like Zappos and Google encourage their employees to take naps during the workday, writes Barnes.

Promote healthy sleep habits among your employees. Don't send your team late-night emails or boast about all-nighters, writes Barnes. If you compose an email after hours, wait until the next morning to send it. And if you notice that your employees seem overextended at work, schedule a check-in to take stock of their workload and priorities (Barnes, Harvard Business Review, accessed 9/4).

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