Psychology of Performance – 41: Impact of Alcohol, Sleep, and Obesity

It may be self-evident to many of you reading this blog that alcohol use, sleep deprivation, and obesity can negatively affect performance at work or at home.  If this is a correct assumption and you have all three of these areas under control, thank you.  On the other hand, after 39 years of working with people and organizations on these issues it is clear to me that our society continues to miss the boat on them.

This week alone, I had client organizations call about each of these concerns.  In one case a senior executive was observed to drink one bottle of wine at a company function, plus cocktails before dinner. Her behavior became problematic when she propositioned a male colleague, angrily denied she had drank too much and proceeded to accuse others on her executive team of “being out to get her.”  To make this situation even sadder, the executive had done something similar three years earlier at the same company function.  This became a performance issue at a number of levels.  First, upon investigation, it turned out she had a number of days in the last few months where her secretary reported she left early for lunch and never returned resulting in significant loss of individual productivity. Second, she created liability for her company when she propositioned a colleague. This created a potentially hostile work environment/sexual harassment lawsuit. In addition, there was lost time for human resources, management, and legal to review the situation and interview all parties. Third, when confronted with her behavior and the company’s requirement to go to the employee assistance program for an evaluation and potential referral for treatment if indicated, she refused and resigned. This resulted in additional loss of intellectual capital and the personal long term health costs to her. This reminder for everyone in supervisor, management, or executive functions is that alcohol and other substance use disorders have not diminished despite policies, procedures,’ and education interventions. It is important to stay alert to your employees’ and colleagues’ behavior and act in a timely and compassionate manner similar to the company discussed in this paragraph.

The research on sleep deprivation is well documented. Sleep deprived individuals do not function well cognitively and their reaction times are diminished. This finding was significant enough for one researcher to say that sleep deprived drivers were more dangerous than alcohol impaired drivers. What are the costs to your organization related to sleep deprivation? We know that individuals who are sleep deprived eat more, make poorer food and exercise decisions, are more irritable with others, and make poor decisions. Many companies recognize the dangers of sleep deprivation and provide nap rooms, meditation classes, and other options so that employees can refresh themselves and perform better at work.

Obesity, wellness, and financial impact discussions are ubiquitous on the internet and in the professional literature. Our workforces are getting fatter and fatter. Recent research suggested that obesity not only has downstream health costs for the employer, there is some evidence that cognitive functions can be influenced as well. This research needs to be replicated. Then there is the subgroup of morbidly obese individuals who also have co-morbid depression. Depression affects performance in terms of diminished problem solving skills, concentration problems, social withdrawal, lowered energy which is compounded by the lower energy associated with morbid obesity, as well as other symptoms such as memory impairment. Any of these symptoms will negatively affect performance in most jobs. As an employer it will become an even heavier burden going forward to manage the workforce as the obesity incidence continues to grow. What is becoming more apparent is that the typical wellness program is unsuccessful in helping the morbidly obese. A major component that is missing is the psychological aspects of performance related to weight loss and weight gain. The research in this area has been well established for over 25 years.  Coors Brewing in 1988 was one of the first companies to incorporate an intensive outpatient obesity program as part of its wellness program. It was a highly successful program. Unfortunately during that time there were many fasting programs and one of the unintended side effects of these programs was an increase in gall bladder surgeries and the corresponding cost. Due to a variety of factors beyond the scope of this blog, all weight loss programs were discontinued a few years later. There are best practice examples of successful interventions with the morbidly obese employee population which apply the psychological elements needed to lose and sustain weight loss.

Contact us if you would like to learn more:

info@minesandassociates.com

Have a day filled with loving kindness and compassion,

Bob

Robert A. Mines, Ph.D., CEO & Psychologist

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