United Kingdom

Employers should allow flexible working hours for night owls

October 2018

UK employers should adopt flexible working hours that reflect employees’ sleeping patterns, according to researchers, following a study that showed sleep deprivation can increase the risk of death.

The study on sleep cycles found that people fall into two camps or chronotypes; those that are up early in the morning like larks, or night owls, those that hit the sack later in the evening. Which type we are is determined by our internal body clocks, according to a news story reported on by the Chartered Management Institute.

Researchers suggested that a 9am to 5pm job does nothing for the health of a night owl who would typically head to bed late and set an early alarm in the morning for work, making them sleep deprived and negatively affecting their health.

This sleep deprivation can in turn lead to an early grave, according to Malcolm von Schantz, professor of chronobiology at the University of Surrey.

He said: “Making an owl live the life of a lark is not only a matter of making their mornings unpleasant: there is well-established evidence that owls suffer far more health problems than larks.”

He suggested that allowing flexible working hours that reflect employees’ sleeping patterns is a “no-brainer”.

The research took place over six and a half years and more than 400,000 respondents were asked to identify whether they were ‘definite’ or ‘moderate’ morning or evening types. They concluded that definite evening types were 10 per cent more likely to die sooner.

The report highlighted the different tendencies of the two chronotypes. “Morning types tend to see a surge in energy first thing, while night produces an energy burst for evening types.”

Von Schantz said: “A chronotype is an aspect of human diversity that managers should acknowledge and take advantage of to ensure optimum team performance at all times of day. What manager would not want their team members to work during the hours when they are most able to concentrate?”

Aon’s Charles Alberts said: “We are starting to understand a lot more about human performance and the importance of factors such as sleep. Recognising that employees have differing needs, the trend towards more flexible workplaces is positive. I suspect that many employers are already accommodating sleeping patterns through flexible working policies – allowing people some discretion over their hours and place of work.”

“For instance, allowing employees to work from home (some if not all of the time) is an easy way to help ‘night owls.’ However, we need to recognise that this degree of flexibility is not possible in many workplaces. I suspect this study will cause some more cynical observers to ask, ‘where does the flexibility end?’”



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