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These employees get paid for having a good night's sleep

An American insurance company is paying its employees to sleep more.

Staffers who participate in Aetna’s Healthy Lifestyles program can earn $25 for every 20 nights when they sleep seven hours or more, with a cap of $300 per year.

In other words, if they sleep seven hours or more on 240 days per year, they’ll get the full $300. Neither the sleep nor the streaks have to be continuous; people don’t get disqualified if they get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, nor do their 20 nights of sleep need to occur consecutively.

Employees’ sleep is monitored in one of two ways: they can a wear fitness tracker like a Fitbit and have their sleep information automatically synced with Aetna’s wellness platform, or they can enter their sleep information into the wellness platform manually, with the company giving folks the benefit of the doubt and assuming they’re not going to lie to collect the cash. 

It’s a progressive policy, but it’s not one without its flaws.

The risk of false reporting by unscrupulous employees aside, fitness trackers are not accurate in their data.

Alanna McGinn, founder of Good Night Sleep Site, says despite those issues, the move is bold and original, one that’s a step in the right direction and that’s starting the conversation about sleep health. And in order for the maximum payout to be achieved, people need to make healthy new habits over those 240 days; it’s not a quick-fix approach to wellness.

“This is plenty of time for these new sleep habits to stick, and the hope is that the individual sees the reward of bettering their sleep health not just for the money but for their overall health and everyday life,” says McGinn, Canadian representative for the International Association of Child Sleep Consultants. “At that point they will feel the difference. That will hopefully make them continue the journey.

“My hope is that Aetna and companies thinking of adopting this program aren’t just focusing on the seven hours of sleep but also on the quality of sleep their employees are getting,” she adds. “It’s not just about the numbers. Sleep education on how to achieve proper sleep hygiene needs to be introduced as well. It’s important that employers adopt a system as a whole that helps promote sleep--meaning don’t tell your employees to get more sleep but continue with the late-night meetings, memos, and round-the-clock phone calls.”

Amy M. Bender, sleep and athletic performance researcher at Calgary’s Centre for Sleep and Human Performance, notes that fitness trackers can actually overestimate sleep by as much as an hour a night and that the same is true for self-reported sleep.

“A lot of times people will estimate their sleep time as the time that they are in bed – failing to calculate the time it takes to fall asleep and awakenings during the night that you might not even remember.” Bender says. “I think it’s probably more important for companies to educate their employees on the benefits of getting good sleep, tools to optimize sleep, and extra support for those not satisfied with the quality of their sleep.

She says it would be important for the company to provide employees the opportunity and encouragement to nap by having designated areas, like napping rooms or sleep pods, as a way for employees to take a mid-day snooze.

“Those who nap have been shown to be more productive, alert, and less stressed than those who don’t,” she says. “The optimal nap is 20 minutes. This is short enough to boost alertness but not long enough that the person goes into slow-wave sleep—the deepest stage—where they wake up feeling groggy and not-awake. 

Employment lawyer Fred Wynne, of Vancouver’s Hamilton Howell Bain & Gould, notes that although the program is well-intentioned, it’s fraught with potential problems as well.

People with medical or other disabilities and family obligations that interfere with their sleep would be deprived of participation in the program—or successful participation—which could be discriminatory unless a Human Rights Tribunal accepts that having a mostly rested workforce is a necessary job requirement.  “I cannot see that happening given the fact essentially all companies operate now with no idea about how much sleep their employees are getting,” Wynne says. “There would also likely have to be accommodations—modified standards—for employees who are unable to meet the policy requirements for human rights reasons.”

He sees other issues from the employees’ perspective.  Despite the good intentions, it could create morale problems as certain employees are accommodated with lower standards, other employees are perceived to be gaming the system, and certain employees find out they just do not fit the criteria and do not understand why, for example.

“I can see privacy concerns as well, although the employees would no doubt have to consent to have their information collected, which is allowable under privacy legislation,” Wynne says “However, what use will the employer put to the data it collects?  I would not want the data of my day-to-day synched with my employer’s system. 

“Further, if employees misrepresent to the company whether through the data collection or the manual entry systems, that could lead to discipline and even termination.  The employer could be incentivizing their employees to defraud it; or, the employer could be attempting to create a database it could rely on to bolster just cause terminations that otherwise would not be just cause.”