Is Insomnia Caused by Speaking Up at Work?

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Employees need sleep. It’s one of the most important recovery activities to engage in. Yet, a lot of people have trouble sleeping, or experience insomnia. If you’re struggling to sleep, there may be a culprit that you havent yet considered. New research shows that if you speak up and share your opinions at work in particular ways, it could increase your insomnia. Learn more below, as well as what to do about it!

Are you speaking up at work?

First, in order to know if your insomnia might be caused by what you’re sharing at work, it’s important to know if you’re speaking up in ways that could have an impact. The research literature refers to speaking up at work as “voice”. Voice entails voluntarily sharing your opinions, ideas, suggestions, or concerns with the intention to improve your work environment. So, if you’re sharing a new way of approaching a task, or letting the team know you’re concerned about a particular choice you’ve made, that’s voice.

Speaking up, or sharing your voice at work, has traditionally been thought to happen in two ways. You can share suggestions to improve the workplace, which is called promotive voice. Employees use this form of voice when they share ideas for making existing processes better. But, employees can also express concerns that existing practices are harmful, or use prohibitive voice. Employees use this form of voice when they call out behaviors that are likely to lead to errors or problems. In other words, promotive voice promotes process improvement and prohibitive voice aims to stop negative outcomes from happening.

man beside flat screen television with photos background with the caption "If you're speaking up at work, there may be potential downsides!"
If you’re speaking up at work, there may be potential downsides!

How does this cause insomnia?

When employees make suggestions to improve the workplace, they experience different emotions depending on how they do so. Insomnia is less likely to happen when employees engage in promotive voice. This is because, if you make a suggestion that is intended to promote improvements to the work environment, you feel more positive emotions. If employees feel more positively about their workday, they’re more likely to give themselves permission to detach from work at night. When you detach from your work, you are less likely to experience insomnia. And when you avoid tossing and turning, you enter your next workday with more energy.

On the other hand, insomnia is more likely to happen when employees engage in prohibitive voice. If you make a suggestion that is intended to call out bad behavior, you feel more negative emotions. For example, you might feel upset or guilty giving feedback to an underperforming colleague. When you feel negative emotions at the end of the work day, you’re less likely to disconnect from work. You might ruminate over the event or wonder if you should have said anything at all. When you can’t detach from work, you are more likely to experience insomnia. This makes you more depleted the following work day as well.

woman lying on the bed with caption, "Insomnia is more likely to occur when employees share constructive criticism, instead of suggestions for improvement."
Insomnia is more likely to occur when employees share constructive criticism, instead of suggestions for improvement.

How can you avoid insomnia?

You can, of course, avoid insomnia by sharing more positive suggestions for improvement and decreasing sharing concerns. But, that might not be a good strategy in the long-term. Research on psychological safety shows that being able to share concerns is key to team cohesion and performance. If you’re sharing lots of negative feedback, and not a lot of suggestions for positive change, you might think about striking a new balance. However, if employees hold back all of their concerns, mistakes and errors may occur more frequently.

The real key for decreasing insomnia may be in changing the way employees respond to prohibitive voice. Leaders can role model responding positively to constructive criticism, and encourage others to do the same. They might also discuss the downsides of responding negatively to employees’ prohibitive voice, including the impacts on sleep and insomnia. The more that leaders can encourage an open and trusting environment, the better. But, employees have to be able to feel good about their decisions to speak up if they want to avoid insomnia at night!

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