The Importance Of Rest For Sustained High Performance

Gone are the days when resting on the job was considered lazy and unproductive.

By Mike Clementi, Vice President, Human Resources at Unilever

Today, companies understand the importance of employee health and wellbeing on the performance and success of their business. It has now become a common employee benefit to offer an onsite fitness center or a gym reimbursement. As employers, we continually encourage our employees to eat healthy and exercise regularly, but we don’t spend enough time coaching employees about the importance of rest, recovery and sleep in the holistic view of wellbeing.

Gone are the days when resting on the job was considered lazy and unproductive. In fact, according to recent psychological and scientific studies, sleep health leads to greater employee innovation, productivity, job satisfaction and quality of life. And at Unilever, we take rest and recovery seriously.

Last year, we launched a Wellbeing Zone at our corporate offices. The purpose of the Zone is to provide our people with a space for mindfulness, meditation, rest, and recovery. It is comprised on four areas.

Connection Bridge 
A section filled with soft seating and natural light so our employees have a space to reconnect with their colleagues face-to-face for quiet discussions.

Refreshment Center
 Employees have access to fresh fruit, healthy snacks and beverages for free daily. And since we are the largest manufacturer of ice cream in the world, we do offer free ice cream treats as well.

Movement Zone
This space is dedicated to massage, yoga and stretching classes. Employees also have access to a working station treadmill, where they can plug in their laptops and exercise at the same time if they wish.

Quiet Zone
When our people need a break from the office environment, they come to this space to meditate, pray and sleep. Talking is not allowed so the integrity of the space is maintained and our employees’ time is respected.

I understand that there is a still a stigma around resting, meditating and napping in the workplace, which I get, it is part of the journey as corporate cultures develop. Personally, I need downtime and rest. While I don’t rest in the office, I do make sure that I get up from my desk often, go for a walk and try to balance my day by coming in and leaving to make sure I listen more to my body — something I only recently learned to do. I am an 8 hour sleep person. Yes, I can go for a few days on less, but I do need this regularly or I am just not the same.

As I was writing this piece, I thought of the Seinfeld episode, “The Nap,” where George Costanza naps under his desk while working for the New York Yankees — what an episode, 3 of my favorite things — Seinfeld, Yankees and Sleep! It is our responsibility as business leaders and employers to change this perception and start having the conversation about the link between recovery, rest and high performance. We need to lead by example and give employees “permission” to make their wellbeing a high priority.

At Unilever, we not only provide our employees with the Wellbeing Zone for rest and recovery, but we also provide resources and tips to help them achieve a better night’s sleep and maximize rest at work. For example, it’s best to nap between 2:00 pm — 3:00 pm after lunch, and naps should not be longer than 30-minutes to prevent drowsiness and potentially disrupt nighttime sleep.

We know it’s a vicious cycle… sleep deprivation leads to stress and stress leads to sleep deprivation, so to maximize results and sustained high performance, we need to consider recovery in the 360 degree approach to well-being. George may have been on to something.

Mike Clementi began his career with Unilever in 1994 as a management trainee. His passion for creating an emotional connection between employees and Unilever has led him to work across multiple divisions and geographies. Mike recently returned to the United States as the Vice President of HR North America and Global Customer Development for Unilever.