The Business Imperative of Good Sleep: Are Law Firms Snoozing and Losing?

Topics: Client Relations, Corporate Legal, Efficiency, Law Firms, Leadership, Practical Law, United Kingdom

underperforming partners

In an article in Practical Law UK, author Anna Fletcher, Director in Employment, Labour and Equalities at Gowling WLG, discusses research by Prof. Vicki Culpin of Ashridge Business School, and others, into the impact of poor sleep on performance, and considers what clients and leaders can do to improve their own well-being, and that of their external and internal legal teams.

According to a growing body of research, Fletcher notes that there is a direct link between performance and good (and bad) sleep. “It is reported that disasters such as Chernobyl and the Challenger space shuttle disaster have been thought to be partly due to poor sleep. Translate that into the “ordinary” workplace,” she writes. “What does that mean both for business performance and for the health of those working within those businesses?”

Fletcher discusses her recent interview with Prof. Culpin, and the professor’s explanation of the importance of good quality and quantity of sleep. What Culpin details about sleep was shocking, both in terms of the impact of “sleepiness” on business performance and also the impact on health. The results of this research is slowly transforming not only the wellbeing agenda beyond the traditional focus on subjects like stress management, mindfulness and work life balance but also the way that business approaches the effect of “sleepiness” on performance, Fletcher writes.

There are some individuals who are physically hard wired not to be negatively affected by poor sleep; but true “short sleepers” are the exception rather than the norm. Research has found that of every 100 people who claim to be “short sleepers” only around five actually are. However, most adults need seven or more hours of sleep per night and are unable to function well after less than six hours of nightly sleep, she notes.

The Adrenalin-Fuelled All-Nighter

In her article, Fletcher describes one such “sleepiness” situation that could cause a law firm problems:

Assume you arrive in the office early in the morning. You feel refreshed after your eight hours good quality sleep, but you are aware that some of the team at a firm you instructed have been working all night on a deal that has yet to close. It is one of those adrenalin-fuelled deals that is taking the business to the next level. Complex, strategically important issues are yet to be resolved so the team have been hard at it, working on solutions, negotiating the finer points, drafting and turning round the agreements that are about to be reviewed.

Tempted to applaud their commitment and dedication? Absolutely you should, recognizing that hard work and effort is important and will keep the team motivated. But what risks has it exposed the business to?

Let us assume those team members have not slept for at least 24 hours and there is little prospect of any rest any time soon. What is the effect of that sleep deprivation on them?

According to Vicki, the effect on performance can be the equivalent of having drunk four glasses of wine. Now alcohol in most workplaces is unlikely to be acceptable, particularly where it has replaced the morning latte. So, why would sleep deprivation that creates the same effect be any more acceptable? As a client, how would you feel about the ability of people who had drunk four glasses of wine to deal with the complex, strategically important issues that kept them up all night?

It is not just alertness that is affected: concentration is impacted, problem solving and judgment are impaired and the ability to assess risk impeded. Creativity and innovation are also affected. In fact, it is exactly the skills we most value in advisors that are significantly impeded by poor sleep.

What Managers & Firm Leaders Can Do About Sleep

Fletcher also outlined several possible solutions to alleviate this “sleepiness” problem:

What can you do as a manager to combat this issue? What can individuals do to help themselves?

Sleep should be on your organization’s well-being agenda to raise awareness and encourage practices that support healthy sleep.

The first step is to reflect on the findings about managers and get enough sleep yourself. Be a good role model, delegate more and better, find out what would help your team.

You can read the entire article online at Practical Law UK