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Research suggests Hong Kong workers should start earlier

Hong Kong Workers | Research

Written by Sandeep Mohanan
Mar 14, 2016

It’s an old adage that people tend to fall into two categories, “a morning person”, or in many cases “not a morning person”. Whether you are or not comes down to circadian rhythm which differs greatly between people.

 Some people’s circadian rhythm helps them to be an early riser with their brain at its most productive earlier in the day, whereas for others this happens later in the day. 

According to a recent study by Till Roenneberg, a professor of chronobiology at the Institute of Medical Psychology at Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich, as much as 70% of workers get up earlier than they should do in the morning, and are less productive as a result. In fact, this imbalance may lead to long-term health issues such as obesity and diabetes. It would seem that many of us are naturally not a morning person, more a mid-morning person and we and our productivity suffer as a result.

Not only are we less productive but according to research we more prone to make errors of judgement early in the morning. “Sleep is a 'strategic resource' that most companies are ignoring", according to a white paper by Christopher Barnes, a management professor at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business in the US. 

"When work schedules are aligned with natural sleep patterns, they produce higher quality and more innovative work because they are more focused, less stressed and generally healthier, he wrote."

The opposite is also true – when employees are sleep deprived they are more likely to make major mistakes and suffer from workplace injuries. His research has even shown that night owls behave more unethically in the morning than at night and that early birds were more unethical at night. Paul Kelley at the University of Oxford’s Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute in the UK says that a typical adolescent gets up three hours before they should do. This trend extends into the workplace.

He concludes that for most of the working population, starting work at 10:00 am would be more optimal in terms of productivity. If these studies are to be believed, companies may get more out of their employees if they were to change their working practises to start later in the day. However, all of the researchers acknowledge that having more flexible working practices can backfire.

Kelly says that due to stereotypes, early birds are more likely to be seen as more diligent and conscientious, while those who keep later hours are viewed as loafers. Barnes also believes that the bias towards early birds is one of the reasons why flexible working time policies can often backfire. He studied the flexible working policies using a sample of employees from a variety of companies, and discovered that people who choose earlier start times were often perceived as better workers and received higher performance ratings — even if they worked the same number of hours. 

That said, for some industries, particularly those with shift working practises, there may be significant advantages to pairing workers to shifts which are in-line with their circadian rhythm. Ryan Olson, a scientist at the Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences in the US, found that shifting working practises in such a way can yield results, but he stresses the importance of firms determining what  results they would consider as productive as opposed to thinking about the length of time they consider appropriate for a given task. 

One thing is for certain. Companies are starting to take note of this body of research, and with technological advances in the workplace, flexible working practises are on the up… However, if your company hasn’t seized the mantle on this, check out these top tips to help become a morning person.

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