WORKPLACE / MAR. 05, 2015
version 5, draft 5

How Sleepiness May Harm Your Career

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A lack of sleep has many disadvantages for our workplace performance.  For instance, studies have shown that our level of self control tends to drop when we’re tired, which can result in us undertaking behaviours we wouldn’t ordinarily do, whether that’s simply loafing off or even stealing from our employer.

See Also: The Impact of Work-Life Balance on Your Sleep

A recent study highlights how we’re also likely to perceive things in a negative way when we’re tired.

"Sleepiness may be a key factor for explaining why people in the work environment sometimes turn molehills into mountains," the authors say.

The study builds on the knowledge that sleepiness often makes it hard for us to control our emotions, and therefore our response to events at work, but the paper goes a bit further than that.

"Our research indicates that when workers are sleepy, they are also more likely to initially evaluate social situations more negatively," it says.

The paper explores what’s known as interpretive bias, which is our tendency to judge situations in a somewhat negative way. Ordinarily this is triggered by factors that can heighten our sense of danger.

For instance, if you’re a new employee and you were excluded from the team-wide email about an upcoming social event, it’s easy to believe that you were left out on purpose rather than the victim on an honest mishap. In such a scenario, the newness of the employee would provide the vulnerability that triggers the negative bias.

"Biased evaluations are important because interpreting events as a threat will likely affect employee stress and can result in counterproductive work behavior, such as retaliation," the researchers say. "We expected that sleepiness would be another factor that would make people feel vulnerable and thus increase interpretive bias—and our study results agree with those expectations."

Negativity in Job Applications

The authors believe their findings have implications for job applicants.  They found that when participants completed a commonly used test to predict whether a candidate will engage in counterproductive behaviour at work, the employer was more likely to reject candidates that also scored highly for negativity bias.

"We found that the state of sleepiness was associated with higher negative bias scores on this test," the authors say. "This effect was not limited to people with hostile personality traits. Even people who scored low on trait hostility and other personality traits often linked with counterproductive work behavior scored higher on the test when sleepy."

Sleepiness was also found to harm us when we enter the workplace too.  A second study found that when participants were sleepy, they were much more alert to potential unfairness at work, prompting a raft of negative behaviours.

"Sleepiness may not always make us evaluate situations more negatively," the authors say. "There is no bias when evaluating a fair work environment. However, it becomes a factor when situations have clear or ambiguous social threat information."

The authors believe that their findings have a number of practical implications. For instance, tired employees may exhibit significantly more counterproductive behaviour than their well-rested colleagues.  The authors suggest, therefore, that if you’re likely to have a sleepy workforce in some way, it’s crucial that you strive even harder to create a fair and just workplace to counter the sleep induced negativity bias.

See Also: 8 Tips for a Better Night’s Sleep During the Working Week

Employers could also work more closely with employees to make them aware of the impact of sleep on their decision making abilities and that tiredness may prompt them to view the glass as distinctly half full.

Are you often sleepy at work? Do think that it makes you negative? Your thoughts and comments below please...

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