If you work in a global company, chances are that your colleagues operate on different time zones.
Flextime policies allow employees to build a schedule that matches their biological sleep patterns, bolstering employee health and performance.
Why should business leaders care if night owls get enough sleep?
When employees lose sleep, their health is affected and productivity dips. Research shows one fourth of the world’s population isn’t sleeping as well as they should — not because they are lazy or improvident, but because their bodies are hardwired against the typical 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. work schedule.
For leaders who want to help employees find their optimal sleep schedule — and boost worker health and business performance — flextime arrangements are key.
What is flextime?
Flextime is a scheduling arrangement that offers full- and part-time employees input on what hours they work. Employees still work the same number of scheduled hours but have the freedom to alter their start and end times.
While the standard eight to five schedule suits roughly 55% of the population, it harms employees who don’t fit the mold. Night owls, roughly 25% of the population, force themselves into standard working hours at the cost of their sleep. Rigid schedules can result in higher sick days, decreased productivity, and higher turnover. If employees are offered flextime, leaders can unlock the potential of employees who are fighting against their biology.
By taking time to learn about genetic time clocks — called chronotypes — leaders can improve employee productivity and protect employee well-being.
What are chronotypes?
Everyone has a unique 24-hour master biological clock, or circadian rhythm. Chronotypes are classifications based on when a person’s circadian rhythm dictates they should be awake or asleep.
Broadly, there are three chronotypes: morning-types, evening-types, and somewhere-in-between-types. Individuals can begin to understand their chronotype by asking, “If I had no plans tomorrow, what time would I like to wake up?” Those who naturally rise before 6 a.m. are categorized as the morning-type. Wake up after 9 a.m.? You likely fall in the evening-type category. And if you naturally start your day between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m., you belong to the in-between category.
When you experience chrono-misalignment (your sleep/wake cycles clash with your body’s natural sleep schedule), you are more likely to suffer exhaustion or make poor decisions that can have serious consequences for your personal and professional life.
Why should employers care?
A healthy workplace does more than make employees happy. It drives essential business outcomes.
In Great Place To Work® research conducted with Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, four out of five employees worldwide reported not flourishing at work, leading to higher turnover and talent costs. When companies prioritize well-being, employees are three times more likely to intend to stay with their employer.
Consider how chrono-misalignment can have a negative impact on your business beyond just the employee experience.
1. It’s expensive.
Absenteeism costs employers big money. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sick day absenteeism costs U.S. employers over $225 billion annually.
Some of that absenteeism is directly linked to poor sleep, a direct effect of chrono-misalignment. SleepWatch data shows that morning-type individuals get 48 more minutes of sleep per night than evening-types. For evening-type workers, that’s 16 fewer hours of sleep per month.
The good news: Flextime offerings have positive impacts on reducing absenteeism. A recent study showed flextime policies increased job satisfaction, ultimately reducing employees’ intent to leave.
2. It’s dangerous.
In a 2014 study using a driving simulator, researchers found that evening-types made more errors and were less attentive at 8 a.m. compared with their morning-type counterparts. Not only are these employees more dangerous on the road, but their impaired, sleep-deprived thinking can continue to impact their job performance throughout the early morning.
Evening-type individuals also report more general exhaustion than morning-types. In fighting chrono-misalignment, employees expend extra energy trying to maintain performance standards in suboptimal conditions, leading to chronic exhaustion — a key factor in burnout.
Additionally, experiencing chrono-misalignment is linked to decreased attention, poorer decision-making, and increased irritability — it can even lead to less ethical behavior.
3. Employee work suffers.
Chrono-misalignment and subsequent sleep deficiencies have been linked to increased job procrastination. When employees don’t get adequate sleep, they lack the energy to focus their attention and resist distractions, and productivity suffers.
Offering flexible work has an opposite effect. A study found that flextime arrangements were positively associated with employee motivation and productivity.
Where should employers start?
There are several ways HR professionals and leaders can begin to help different chronotypes thrive in the workplace:
1. Start by allowing full-time employees to adjust their working schedule by one hour.
Even just an extra hour can offer evening-type individuals more time to sleep, offsetting the 48-minute average deficit they face in a traditional schedule. A later start time shifts their work responsibilities to a time more aligned with their biology, allowing for better control over their attention and greater alertness on the job.
2. Reset expectations around when work gets done.
With employees opting for flextime arrangements, your workforce won’t all be clocking in on the same schedule. Leaders should encourage employees to stick to their personal work schedule and resist pressure to always be “on,” or immediately responsive, simply because others are working beyond traditional hours.
When leaders make a point to acknowledge different schedules in their communications, employees feel empowered to preserve their time away from work.
3. Reduce stigma for employees who ask for flextime.
When implementing flextime policies, consider how your culture supports or hinders employees from participating.
Traditional American work culture praises early risers and stigmatizes night owls as less ambitious and less productive. Employees requesting or using flexible schedules often face prejudice from their supervisors.
To reduce bias, make flextime standard across your whole organization. When employees ask for a different schedule, make sure their careers don’t suffer.
4. Host annual training about healthy sleep habits.
Discuss healthy sleep habits with your workers. Reminding employees to take care of their well-being can foster feelings of organizational trust and work engagement, and most importantly, improve employee health.
When companies prioritize well-being, employees are three times more likely to intend to stay with their employer.
The global workforce has seen numerous changes in how and when we work. As companies work to create inclusive workplaces, sleep should be included in the conversation about flexibility.
Embracing flextime is more than simply allowing employees the “flexibility” to take breaks to pick up their kids or run to a doctor’s appointment.
Flextime allows employees to adjust their schedule to fit their biological needs. To create an environment of openness and respect, organizations should educate their employees on the importance of understanding their chronotype and allow them to make informed decisions about their work schedules.
Kristyn is an Industrial Organizational Psychology Researcher with the Data Science and Innovation team at Great Place To Work. Kristyn’s research career has focused on employee well-being, organizational behavior, managing a diverse workforce, and using people analytics to drive business change. Her unique blend of occupational health psychology and diversity science training contribute to Great Place To Work’s mission to create a world of workplaces that are great For All™.