Should HR be encouraging employees to be early risers? Is a night owl more likely to be creative? HRM has a look at the research.
Are you an early riser or a night owl? Can you identify among your employees who falls into which category? And does it matter in terms of how productive they are?
Let’s look first at those who are up with the lark. After studying the habits of millionaires for five years, Thomas Corley found that half of them work up at least three hours before their workday began. They jogged, meditated or whatever, but they were up and preparing for their presumably busy, working day. You can guess who he’s talking about -– the usual suspects including Tim Cook, CEO at Apple, PepsiCo’s female CEO Indra Nooyi, Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter. They’re all up and active in the pre-dawn gloom.
Is it working for them? According to a 2014 comparative study of larks and owls from University of Barcelona, early risers tend to be more persistent, resistant to fatigue and resilient when faced with problems. This, in turn, makes them less prone to depression, anxiety and substance abuse.
“People’s genes play a role in determining their circadian rhythm — the inner clock that regulates sleep and other physiological processes,” said study author Ana Adan, pointing to how several other studies linked circadian rhythm genes with the development of mood disorders, schizophrenia and drug consumption.
Life before dawn
Rilla Moore, AHRI Life Fellow and former Head of HR Stockland, was and still is an early riser.
“I can be working at 4.30 in the morning. My body clock means I’ve always woken early; I don’t know if that’s because I was brought up on a farm.”
In her former corporate role, Moore would be in the office no later than 6.30am. “It gave me two hours, at least, where I could sit and get through everything outstanding and prepare for the day. I like to be in control of everything and also I was then more available to my team. But my team also knew that unless there was something urgent, I would go home at 6pm. I didn’t care if people wanted to come in later and work the other end. [Allowing variation] helps the productivity of your team.”
If however the idea of being at your workstation makes you feel exhausted, then take heart, you’re not alone. Evening dwellers are not necessarily in the wrong when they roll over and pull the covers over your head. Winston Churchill and Barack Obama, two famous night owls, show that you are in good company. And look how productive they were.
I love the nightlife, I love inductive reasoning
It may also be the case that evening types are in many ways smarter. In a study of 1000 teenagers at the University of Madrid, researchers showed that night owls displayed more inductive reasoning – a quality which is linked to innovative thinking, more prestigious occupations, and higher incomes. Another study showed that evening types among US Air Force recruits were significantly more able to think laterally than morning types, even when they were evaluated in the morning.
Sleep specialist Michael Breus told Fast Company that he is constantly asked by night owls how they can become early risers. His advice is simply to embrace your natural sleeping habits rather than trying to change them.
However he acknowledges that a bias towards larks exists in today’s workplaces.
“In the normal, everyday workforce, the late-night people are assumed to be lazy because they can’t get up and make it to early-morning meetings,” he explains. “They’re assumed to be undisciplined.”
Breus think that assessment is unfair and that both “types” have the potential to be as productive as each other by adjusting their work patterns to suit their sleeping behaviour. Management needs to recognise that people work at their optimum at different times and be accommodating to those needs (check out our article on three reasons every organisation should offer flexible work).
“You really want both [early birds and night owls] in your organisation,” says Breus. The key is to “make sure they’re lined up with the right duties” and performing them at the right times.
Discover how you can effectively engage and facilitate productivity within your team, with the AHRI short course “Creating high performing teams”.