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Sleep disorders : employers have interest to worry about it more


Alain Castonguay

March 19, 2018 07:00

Nicolas Forestier and Bradley Smith | Photo : Réjean Meloche

For Desjardins Insurance, canadian employers have any interest to worry about the quality of sleep of their employees.

At the Congress of the insurance and investment, held in November, Nicolas Forestier, who is collaborating on the supervision of the group plan of the 55 000 members, current employees or retired from the Desjardins group, has cited three major reasons why an employer should worry about : the health and safety at work, the productivity and costs of group insurance plans.

The fact that poor sleep affects the cognitive abilities significantly and degrades the concentration of 20% to 50%. The insomnia would represent one-quarter of all the costs linked to accidents in the workplace, says the one who acts as an advisor to the groups, public and quasi-public chez Desjardins financial Security (DFS).

The decrease of productivity associated to insomnia, cause a heavy burden on the employers. People show up at work even if they have slept poorly, but their work is of lesser quality. This reduction of productivity associated with presenteeism would be about 28 work days per year, for a poor sleeper, that is 25 days longer than for the person who has a good sleep.

25 days lost per employee

“This is not nothing. It is five weeks, or 25 working days lost per employee of insomniac, ” he says. The costs are estimated to be $ 5,000 per year for each employee affected by a sleep disorder.

For sleep apnea, which affects 2% to 10% of the workers according to the studies, it is sometimes necessary to wait up to eight years before you can consult with a professional. For a company of 100 employees, if two of them must wait eight years before having access to the treatment, the invoice related to this one sleep disorder reached 80 000 $, he notes.

Mental health problems represent the largest portion of all disability benefits paid through the salary insurance, ” he recalls. “Sleep may be the key to resolving the health problems of Canadians,” says Mr. Forest, in referring to the high blood pressure, diabetes, depression or cardiovascular disorders.

Some 40 % of people or 5 million Canadians active on the labour market, report having sleep disorders. According to him, the situation is all the more disturbing when one notes that 87 % of people affected said they did not consult any doctor about it.

A program to reduce the costs

In order to reduce the costs of health plan-related sleep disorders, Desjardins worked for a year with a new business. A pilot project was conducted with 1 800 employees of the Mouvement Desjardins between December 2016 and may 2017. The first results of the programme, which focused on cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), are promising.

Bradley Smith, president and founder of Haleo, who has led the pilot project at Desjardins, and whose business model is based on the application of this therapy, has unveiled the results at the Congress. During the test at Desjardins, 35 % of the 1800 participants have been screened. On this group, 83 % agreed to be supported in the framework of the program of Haleo. Among the people who have completed treatment, nearly nine participants out of ten say they have seen an improvement in their sleep.

Return on investment of $ 10 per dollar invested

The impact on productivity and reduction of presenteeism has not been measured. However, Mr. Smith points out that the screening of sleep disorders will certainly help to reduce the mental health problems. “The people who have been screened are four times more likely to suffer from symptoms of moderate to severe psychological distress, compared to good sleepers,” he says.

Desjardins has participated to simplify and market the offer of the company, adds Mr. Smith, including the service in the group insurance plans. The platform developed allows employers to obtain general information on the links between sleep disorders and the psychological distress, he says. We’re also trying to raise awareness about the physiological and environmental factors that influence the quality of sleep.

Not to dramatize the effect of a poor night’s sleep

It suggests methods for changing behavior. Relaxation techniques are also proposed. Part of cognitive therapy is important, ” stresses Bradley Smith. A lot of people have a tendency to over-dramatise the effect of a poor night’s sleep and they show up at work with a negative attitude, ” he said.

At Desjardins, it is estimated that implementation of the program allows you to decrease the costs linked to the decrease of productivity. The return on the investment is $ 10 for every dollar invested in the program.

It is estimated that the treatment can get the equivalent of 4 212 $ per year in productivity gains, for each employee treated. In a company of 1,000 employees, the program pays for itself as soon as five employees have been treated.

The therapy does not work for everyone the first time, recognizes Bradley Smith. “Even if we can treat only 2 % of employees, over a period of five to six weeks, the return on investment is virtually instant. And keeping the program in place for the other, we get to educate all employees to this issue, ” he said.

“It is the accompaniment of the therapist that makes the difference. There is nothing revolutionary in the treatment. It is the key that gives motivation to the employee, ” says Bradley Smith.

If the participant wishes, the program allows you to follow in the longer term, once the therapy is completed. At regular intervals, it will be contacted by the platform in order to complete a short questionnaire. We want to ensure that the improvement obtained during treatment persists in the long term. As needed, we will offer another session of therapy to support employees who experience a ” relapse “, says the CEO of Haleo.

The main challenge associated with cognitive-behavioural therapy is the limited number of therapists who received the training in this sense, he adds. At Haleo, we are hiring two canadian experts in this field and the emphasis is put on training, to increase the accessibility of the therapy to the greatest number of people. The fact of the offer by video conferencing facilitates things, ” he concludes.

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