Smokers? Overweight employees?

Nah. The new workplace epidemic threatening employers and the productivity of their employees may be sleepy workers. Businesses lose $63 billion in productivity each year from the phenomenon, according to research.

New numbers from staffing firm Accountemps peg the severity of the epidemic, reporting that 74% of U.S. workers say they work while tired, with nearly one-third (31%) saying they do so very often.

The costs of working tired are high for both employers and employees. More than 1,000 employees surveyed by Accountemps cited lack of focus or being easily distracted (52%), procrastinating more (47%), being grumpy (38%) and making more mistakes (29%) among the consequences.

What’s worse, if employers don’t take action, lack of sleep can lead to bigger problems in the workplace — such as burnout, turnover and a negative corporate culture, along with lost sales and productivity, explains Bill Driscoll, district president of Accountemps.

Simply put, it’s time for a wakeup call among employers.

“A tired staff is an unproductive staff,” Driscoll says. “There’s no upside to having an exhausted team at work. Sometimes, there are not enough hours in the day to get work and personal tasks done, so managers should try to be understanding when employees are tired and put measures in place to help ease drowsiness.”

Younger workers are more likely to be tired on the job, according to the report. The vast majority of workers 18-34 admitted to being sleepy at work often, compared to 71% of workers ages 35 to 54, and only 50% of respondents ages 55 and older.

Does this mean nap rooms might be the solution? Quite possibly.

“Having a nap room in the office sends a message that the company cares about the health and well-being of its employees,” Driscoll says.

More than half (55%) of workers said they would use a nap room if their employer offered one. But just 2% said their employer already provides a nap room and they take advantage of it.

Though savvy tech firms — including Google, Apple and AOL — are known for their nap rooms, other companies across the nation are beginning to realize the importance of a good night’s sleep. And they’re realizing that nap rooms aren’t the only solution.

“Even if it’s not feasible for a company to offer a nap room, the employer can still help their staff be well-rested at work,” Driscoll says.

He suggests implementing flexible work schedules and telecommuting options; encouraging employees to take breaks; and bringing in temporary professionals to ease workloads as possible solutions.

Perhaps most important is for employers to talk to their employees individually about personalized solutions.

“While each company is unique, bringing attention to the issue of being tired at work could help solve the problem,” Driscoll says. “If your team is always tired, it’s best to have open discussions with them and determine how to remedy the situation.”

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