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Early bird employees considered more valuable

Annoyingly for anyone who struggles to be a fully functioning human before 10am, it looks like the tired old adage “the early bird gets the worm” could contain a gritty granule of truth for the workplace.

Sorry night owls – results from a scientific study suggest that supervisors look more favourably on employees who drag themselves into work at the crack of dawn (or at least earlier than the rest of the cohort).

Interestingly, it also doesn’t matter if early bird employees leave early – indicating it is not extended working hours that impress the boss, and highlighting the cultural links between early risers and virtue.

University of Washington researchers conducted a series of experiments to arrive at their conclusion. In one, 149 pairs of supervisors and employees were rounded up, with employees asked their usual work arrival time, and supervisors asked to rate their employees’ conscientiousness and performance.

The early-rising employees were more highly rated than their counterparts.

In addition, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the study also found that supervisors who had early-bird tendencies of their own were more likely to value early-arriving employees.

In another test, 150 undergraduates were presented with two scenarios: an employee who arrives at work at 7am and leaves at 3pm, and an employee who comes to work at 11am and leaves at 7pm. Both worked eight-hour days, and had identical performance statistics.

Again, results showed that students rated the employee who arrived early as more conscientious and higher-performing. And the more the students preferred waking up early, the more biased they were toward the employee who did the same.

The researchers advise managers to be aware of their potential bias against certain employees who take advantage of flexible work arrangements, and not to underrate employees who arrive later. 

But it’s not all good news for the early birds. Another recent study, this time from Oxford University, suggests getting up early can actually be bad for some people’s health.

Night owls can feel vindicated by Dr Paul Kelley’s research, which shows that making people start work before 10am could make employees ill, exhausted and stressed, not to mention less productive.

It’s all down to circadian rhythms. Before the age of 55, the circadian rhythms of adults are completely out of sync with normal 9-to-5 working hours, which poses a “serious threat” to performance, mood and mental health, Kelley says.

Experiments studying circadian rhythms have shown that the average 10-year-old will not start focussing properly for academic work before 8.30am. Similarly, a 16-year-old should start at 10am for best results and university students should start at 11am.

For HR professionals, the key is to offer employees flexible working hours. In addition to improving the health of employees, flexible workplaces have also been shown to lead to higher staff retention, and act as a major drawcard for top talent.

But, if on occasion you do need to drag yourself out of bed earlier, here are a few tips:

  • Don’t hit that snooze button – get up as soon as your alarm goes off
  • Ease yourself into it. Start by waking up 15 minutes earlier than usual one morning, and gradually increase this by 15 minute increments as your body adapts
  • Find an alarm tone that doesn’t make you angry, and change it often so that it doesn’t become stale
  • Incorporate exercise into your morning routine, to get your blood pumping and clear your mind

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