I think we have totally missed the boat on marrying work schedules with sleep schedules. I have battled to stay awake from morning till night since I was a kid. Beginning in middle school, I would come home from school and put Dark Side of the Moon on the turntable and crash in my room until dinnertime. When I was 20, I got a parts delivery job, and it became part of my work routine to pull off to the side of the road somewhere and take a 30-minute nap. I made it a part of my routine after I fell asleep while crossing the I-205 bridge into Washington and bumped mirrors with a car in the next lane.
In my twenties I went to school in the morning and worked swing shift. Some days I would skip class and snooze on an old couch in Cramer Hall, or just not make it out of my pickup after parking for 30-45 minutes.
My daughter asked me recently if I ever almost fell asleep while driving, and my instinctive answer was, “Every day.” I have a long commute – about 45 miles – and I tend to burn the candle at both ends, so I have to manage my fatigue. There’s something soothing about being behind the wheel. For me, it’s kind of like reading. If I open even the most interesting book ever written at bedtime and start reading, I’m good for about 2 pages. My wife can read for 3 hours in bed.
We all hear about these cultures where taking a nap in the middle of the workday is routine. I’ll believe it when I see it. Supposedly this happens in Spain, or Italy, or one of those European countries where the economy has collapsed. I have a cot in my office, which I used to open up once in awhile to rest my eyes. Now even that is onerous – I’ll just sink down in my chair and “meditate.” I know, from my own experience, that if I do this once or twice a day, for just 10-15 minutes at a time, I do better work all day long. About the only thing you can do effectively when tired is sleep.
I don’t think we have to pay people to sleep, although really that is preferable to paying them to make mistakes when they’re tired. We also don’t have to encourage or recommend it, although, again, that would probably be a good idea. Why don’t we just condone it? Let employees know that they can take an unpaid sleep break during their work shift, and maybe convert an old office into a nap room. Go to the army surplus store and pick up some fold-up army cots.
Excuse me for a few minutes. I’ll be back.
Ah, that’s better. My train of thought was derailing. Thinking about sleep was making me drowsy. This seems like a no-brainer to me. I’m sure there is research indicating that people who get the proper amount of sleep are more effective, efficient, and creative. We know that the body/mind energy cycle is not a 24-hour cycle. It’s more like a 3-hour cycle, meaning that we could all benefit from resting for a few minutes several times a day. Especially after a meal.
I’m a big fan of results-based performance evaluation. Yes, there are processes that we want employees to follow, provided that they are proven and tested (we also want to periodically re-evaluate processes, to make sure they stay optimal). I’ve found that giving people the space to engineer their own work often leads to something better than I expected. Some people need more guidance than others. I’m reminded of a Dilbert cartoon when the Boss finds Wally carting off office equipment and supplies to his car and asks him what he is doing. Wally answers, “You told us to ‘act like we own the company,’ so I am.” If you’re going to trust in the results-based system, you can’t forget to check the results. An employee who takes advantage of granted freedoms won’t be able to hide their results for very long. Maybe accounting personnel should be exempted from this program.
Embrace the nap. And remember to dream.