By Natanya Rutstein
Workplace flexibility has long been a hot topic as a means of attracting and retaining top talent, particularly amongst millennial and generation Z employees. It is also routinely utilised to infuse organisational commitment into employee work-life balance. Companies across the globe have begun offering a wide variety of flexible workplace options based on their understanding of the natural circadian rhythms of individual employees.
A circadian rhythm is a rhythm that repeats itself roughly every 24 hours. They are also referred to as our “biological clock” which regulates our natural cycle of sleep and wakefulness. https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circadian_rhythm0).
Every person has their own circadian rhythm or “chronotype”, which determines their optimal time to fall asleep and awaken, as well as the most predictable peaks and troughs of energy throughout the course of their day. Generally speaking, we are most energised and experience our highest levels of productivity and concentration within an hour or two of waking up. By mid-afternoon, we typically experience a dip in our energy levels which is followed by a second peak at approximately 6pm. Following this, alertness tends to decline for the rest of the evening and throughout the early morning hours until hitting the very lowest point at approximately 3:30am. For those of us who are early risers, this cycle will begin earlier on in the day and later on, for those who are “night-owls”.
If we don’t follow our natural sleeping rhythms, we will almost certainly wake up feeling tired, with the resultant negative impact on our work performance. This non-adherence, can also precipitate negative health consequences, such as heart disease, obesity, anxiety and depression. (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/24/well/mind/work-schedule-hours-sleep-productivity-chronotype-night-owls.html)
According to a recent article published in the New York Times- “New Office Hours Aim for Well Rested, More Productive Workers”, the Danish pharmaceutical company AbbVie, assists their employees in designing work schedules that take advantage of their biological strengths. Employees are trained to identify the times that they are up for creative or challenging projects, typically mornings for early risers and afternoons for late risers. Their lower-energy times are then allocated to more mundane tasks, like handling emails or doing administrative chores. Employees are able to avoid peak traffic hours and achieve greater balance between their personal and professional lives — for example, by getting their children from school in the afternoon, then working from home in the evening after the kids are in bed. According to company surveys, employee satisfaction with work-life balance has risen from 39 percent 10 years ago, when the program launched, to nearly 100 percent today.
It seems like a no brainer that our work schedules -hours of work as well as type of tasks we perform- should be as closely co-ordinated as possible, with our own individual biological clocks.
Work which requires higher levels of concentration, energy levels and more complex cognitive skills, should be undertaken during our peak periods and our more administrative and less taxing tasks performed in our “troughs”.
For a more in-depth understanding of the science behind different chronotypes and how to best to structure employee work schedules and task around it, read Daniel Pink’s book, ‘When’.