Night owls should start work later, research says

It is totally normal for your attention to peak and dip during the day, study says

Olivia Blair
Tuesday 23 May 2017 09:27 BST

Most workers can identify with either being one or the other: Finding themselves arriving bright, early and ready for work but then crashing around 3pm and struggling to concentrate or a night owl who barely functions before 10am but is super productive later in the afternoon.

Well, according to new research, there is a reason why this happens and the findings indicate that bosses should be paying attention to their employee’s body clocks.

A new study by researchers at the University of Sydney looked into “chronotype diversity” of people in different occupations. This refers to the underlying circadian rhythms or 'body clocks' of people which indicate their biological predispositions towards periods of activity and rest.

They found that individual workers were more productive at certain times of the day depending on their chronotype. There were ‘morning’ workers whose energy dwindled later in the day, ‘evening’ workers who were more productive in the evening and ‘intermediate’ workers who suddenly peaked around midday, reports

The research, published in the Academy of Management Review journal, looked at how chronotype diversity affects team performance in terms of coordination, information processing and backing up behaviour. They found that especially for tasks which were interdependent staff needed to be on the same circadian cycle so they peak at the right time. This included emergency workers and surgical teams.

However, for jobs that required "sustained attention" and a member of the team to be alert at all times, like long-haul flight crews, nurses and police on surveillance, it benefitted employers to have a mix of people who peak at different times.

The author of the study Stefan Volk said his findings showed how managers and bosses should take into consideration when their employees would peak.

“These physiological differences matter a lot in the work context and we have to understand how it affects teams,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald. “When people are different, it can be positive or negative depending on the specific task they are performing. If members of a surgical team are different chronotypes, that is not ideal.”

"By studying what is known from the medical and biological sciences about the functioning of the human body, I believe we can improve employees' performance in a myriad of ways including, but not limited to, workplace safety and effective team work," he said.

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