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Insomnia? Blame it on pay cut

A study has confirmed that a cut in salary could be one of the leading causes of insomnia.

india Updated: Jan 25, 2006 13:45 IST

Workers losing sleep over pay cuts is not uncommon, but now a study has confirmed that a cut in salary could be one of the leading causes of insomnia.

A study at four hospitals found that nurses who took an unexpected pay cut reported higher levels of insomnia than their colleagues whose pay did not change. But insomnia symptoms dropped sharply for nurses whose supervisors were trained to offer emotional support and full information to those suffering the salary cut.

"There's both bad news and good news in these results," said Jerald Greenberg, author of the study and professor of management and human resources at Ohio State University 's Fisher College of Business.

The bad news is that sources of stress in the workplace, such as a pay cut really can have a negative physiological effect on workers. Insomnia has been linked to workplace accidents and lowered productivity.

But the good news is that management can help minimise these problems both easily and inexpensively, Greenberg said.

"There's nothing magical about the supervisor training I did at the hospitals during the study," he said. "But unfortunately, it is seldom donein many organisations."

This study showed that nurses working for supervisors who received training, showed steep drops in their levels of insomnia in the four weeks following the training. Meanwhile, nurses whose supervisors weren't trained saw small drops in insomnia levels after the four-week period, but nothing compared to the nurses with the trained supervisors.

Before pay cuts were announced, nurses at all four hospitals filled out questionnaires over four weeks measuring their levels of insomnia. In week five, nurses at two of the hospitals were informed about the new salary system that would reduce their pay.

Nurses continued using the insomnia questionnaires the following four weeks. Results showed that nurses who experienced the pay cut showed "dramatic increases" in symptoms of insomnia, to an average score of 6 on a 7-point scale, Greenberg said. The average score before the pay cut was half that, he said.

Greenberg conducted supervisor training at one of the two hospitals where the nurses received salary reductions as well as one which did not have pay cuts. The training consisted of two four-hour sessions conducted on consecutive days.

"Everyone I know in management agrees these types of behaviours are important and necessary," Greenberg said. "But just because people say it is important doesn't mean they are putting it into practice. The message I gave was not unique, but sometimes it takes something like a training session to really help supervisors do what they know is best."

And in fact, this study showed that nurses who worked for supervisors who received this training showed steep drops in their levels of insomnia in the four weeks following the training. Meanwhile, nurses whose supervisors did not receive the training saw small drops in insomnia levels after the four-week period, but nothing compared to the nurses with the trained supervisors.

"Most supervisors believe they treat their employees with dignity and respect, and they may be right. But in a high-stress time like these nurses were experiencing, you really have to go over the top in convincing people that you care, and that you're there to support and help them," Greenberg said.

"If you are too subtle, employees are likely to miss the message when they are under stress."

Greenberg said he believes these results apply for other sources of job-related stress, not just pay cuts. That means other types of stress also may cause physical symptoms, such as insomnia, and that proper supervisor training may minimize those effects.

"Everyone I know in management agrees these types of behaviours are important and necessary," Greenberg said. "But just because people say it is important doesn't mean they are putting it into practice. The message I gave was not unique, but sometimes it takes something like a training session to really help supervisors do what they know is best."

And in fact, this study showed that nurses who worked for supervisors who received this training showed steep drops in their levels of insomnia in the four weeks following the training. Meanwhile, nurses whose supervisors did not receive the training saw small drops in insomnia levels after the four-week period, but nothing compared to the nurses with the trained supervisors.

"Most supervisors believe they treat their employees with dignity and respect, and they may be right. But in a high-stress time like these nurses were experiencing, you really have to go over the top in convincing people that you care, and that you're there to support and help them," Greenberg said.

"If you are too subtle, employees are likely to miss the message when they are under stress."

Greenberg said he believes these results apply for other sources of job-related stress, not just pay cuts. That means other types of stress also may cause physical symptoms, such as insomnia, and that proper supervisor training may minimise those effects.

First Published: Jan 25, 2006 13:16 IST