Flexible scheduling options that allow employees to start their workday later may bolster a lot more than just morale.
According to sleep expert and Oxford University Professor Dr. Paul Kelley, a traditional nine-to-five workday is only benefiting a very small segment of employees because that start time is too early for most people.
You heard that right — nine in the morning is too early to start work. Unless you’re in the 55-and-older demographic, Kelley says you’re fighting your body’s natural biorhythms by starting the workday closer to 10 a.m.
Optimal wake-up times
As reported in The Guardian, Kelley originally started conducting research to find out when school-age children experienced “true body awakening” and whether the starting time at most schools was optimal for those children.
That research uncovered the following body wake-up times for children:
- Up to age 10 — 6:30 a.m.
- Ages 10 to 16 — 8 a.m., and
- Ages 16 to 18 — 9 a.m.
From there, Kelley took his findings and estimated body wake-up times for adults. What he found: Adults lose sleep during the night and, as a result, don’t fully awaken until much later than the start of the traditional work day.
Then, around their mid-50s, people start to return to their 10-year-old awakening patterns, Kelley said.
Finally, Kelley drew some conclusions about why the nine-to-five schedule is still the dominant schedule of most workplaces: because it’s ideal for older workers — the employees who generally set the schedule in the first place.
Kelley identified the starting times that are most likely to translate to maximum efficiency for workers. These included:
- 8 a.m. (ideal start time for 50-somethings)
- 10 a.m. (workers in their 30s), and
- 11 a.m. (Millennials).
Of course, simply allowing workers to start work according to their optimal body wake-up times isn’t a feasible option for many companies.
Among other things, research has shown managers have a bias against employees who start their work day later than their peers. As HR Benefits Alert covered previously, a report by the University of Washington’s Foster School on flexible scheduling found that flex-time workers’ who work early hours are considered better overall employees by their managers than those employees who choose to work later hours.
This is the first report of its kind on flexible scheduling bias.
After conducting three separate experiments on managerial bias toward flexible scheduling, researchers came to the same conclusion: Managers view employees who start work earlier as more conscientious and more productive than their peers.
According to one of the study’s co-authors, Kai Chi (Sam) Yam:
Compared to people who choose to work earlier in the day, people who choose to work later in the day are implicitly assumed to be less conscientious and less effective in their jobs.
Based on the findings in this study, employees who choose to set their schedules to work later hours could wind up having their performance judged by factors that actually have nothing to do with their performance. And this type of bias could unfairly impact these workers’ pay and advancement opportunities.