The Power of Timing: How Time-of-Day Preferences Affect Work Performance

today2023.05.05. 455


Are you a lark or an owl? What about your team members? As organizations strive for peak performance, understanding the time-of-day preferences of their employees is becoming an increasingly important but often overlooked factor. Yet research shows that understanding and accommodating these preferences can have a significant impact on employee performance and well-being, ultimately benefiting both employees and employers

In modern workplaces, the traditional 9-to-5 schedule is no longer the norm. With the rise of remote work and flexible work arrangements, employees have more autonomy over their work schedules than ever before. However, despite these changes, many workplaces still prioritize morning hours over afternoon or evening hours, a bias that can have significant implications for employee productivity and well-being. With five generations now a norm at workplaces it’s probably worth taking a closer look at how our biological clocks, or circadian rhythms impact our productivity.

A research study by Ryan Jay Walker titled “Age, the Big Five, and Time-of-Day Preference,” investigates the relationship between personality traits, age, and time-of-day preference.

The results of the study showed that age was a significant predictor of time-of-day preference. Younger participants tended to prefer later times for activities, while older participants preferred earlier times. This finding supports previous research that has suggested a shift towards earlier time preferences as people age.

The study also found that personality traits were related to time-of-day preference. Specifically, extraversion and openness were positively related to later time preferences, while conscientiousness was negatively related to later time preferences. These findings suggest that personality traits may play a role in determining when people prefer to engage in different activities.

These preferences are influenced by our biological clocks, or circadian rhythms, which regulate our sleep-wake cycles and other bodily functions. While some people are naturally morning people, or “larks,” others are night owls who perform best later in the day.

Till Roenneberg, a German chronobiologist also conducted extensive research on the impact of circadian rhythms on human behavior and well-being, including in the workplace. Roenneberg’s research has shown that individuals have different natural peak performance times based on their chronotypes, with some people being more productive and alert in the morning, while others are more productive and alert in the evening. He has argued that workplaces that fail to take these individual differences into account may be inadvertently causing sleep deprivation and other negative health outcomes for employees.

One concept that Roenneberg has popularized is the idea of “social jet lag“, which refers to the mismatch between an individual’s natural circadian rhythm and their work or social schedules. For example, someone who has a natural tendency to be a “night owl” may struggle to adapt to a work schedule that requires them to wake up early in the morning. This can lead to chronic sleep deprivation and other health problems over time.

However, despite these findings, many workplaces are still structured to favor early birds. Morning meetings and conference calls are the norms, and employees who arrive early are often viewed as more diligent and conscientious than those who arrive later.

This cultural bias towards morning people can lead to employees who are “owls” feeling left out or undervalued, which can ultimately impact their productivity and well-being.

In his book “When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing,” Daniel Pink discusses how corporate cultures are configured to prioritize “larks” over “owls.” He writes:

“Most organizations are lark-infused. They hold early morning meetings and conference calls, and workers who show up early are viewed as dutiful and conscientious while those who come in later are seen as slackers—even if they work just as many hours…The ‘early bird gets the worm’ ethos is so woven into the cultural fabric that it’s often invisible.”

Pink goes on to explain that this cultural bias towards morning people can have negative consequences for both “owls” and the organization as a whole. He argues that “the most productive and innovative teams are those that include people with a diverse set of perspectives and work styles.” By neglecting the preferences of “owls” and enforcing a rigid schedule, organizations may be missing out on the unique strengths and contributions of these individuals.

How should HR tackle this issue?

HR is in a great position to address time-of-day preference issues among people by implementing several key steps.

First, they can conduct surveys or assessments to better understand their employees’ personality traits and time-of-day preferences. Based on this information, HR can design work schedules that are better suited for their workers.

Second, HR can encourage flexibility in work schedules to accommodate different preferences. This can include offering flexible work hours or allowing employees to select their preferred working hours.

Third, HR professionals can provide education and training to help workers optimize their schedules based on their preferences and personality traits. Fourth, it is essential to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the new work schedules and gather feedback from employees.

Finally, HR professionals can work with managers and supervisors to ensure that the schedules are aligned with organizational goals and objectives, promoting productivity while maintaining employee well-being. Overall, HR can play an integral role in creating a more engaged, productive, and inclusive workforce by taking a proactive approach and considering individual preferences and needs.

The bias towards morning people in modern workplaces can have significant implications for employee productivity and well-being. To create a more inclusive and productive workplace culture, organizations should be more aware of the different time-of-day preferences of their employees and be willing to adapt their work schedules to accommodate those preferences. By doing so, they can create a more diverse and productive workforce, better equipped to meet the challenges of the modern workplace.

Written by: Mihaly Nagy

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