Appraisals coming? Ask for flexible hours to boost productivity

  • PTI, Washington
  • Updated: Jan 27, 2015 18:19 IST

This is your chance to make the most of the next appraisal in your office. Giving employees more control over their work schedules may help curb sleep deficiency and improve health, according to new research.

"In the absence of sufficient sleep, we are not as attentive or alert, we process information more slowly, miss or misinterpret social and emotional cues and decision making is impaired," said Orfeu M Buxton from the Pennsylvania State University. "For example, we may misjudge risks by undervaluing negative consequences and overvaluing potential rewards," said Buxton.

Sleep deficiency has been linked to increased risk of automobile crashes, chronic disease and early mortality. Buxton and colleagues looked to see if a workplace intervention, designed to increase family-supportive supervision and give employees more control over their work time, improved sleep quantity and quality.

Researchers followed 474 employees as part of a study conducted at an information technology company, with about half of the employees serving as the control while the other half experienced the study intervention. Both employees and their supervisors participated.

The intervention was designed to reduce conflicts between work and personal life, and focused on two main cultural shifts: allowing employees to decide on when and where they worked and training supervisors to support their employees' personal lives.

Those who were assigned to the intervention were encouraged to be completely flexible about when and where they would work -- at the office, from home or elsewhere -- while still working the same number of hours as the control group.

All of the participants wore a sleep-monitoring watch, a device that tracks movement to monitor periods of sleep. Interviews and data collection occurred three times throughout the study.

Six months after the programme began, the researchers observed work-related variables that they hoped to change with the intervention. A year after the intervention, Buxton and colleagues followed up to observe outcomes, including changes in the amount and quality of sleep employees were getting.

"We showed that an intervention focused on changing the workplace culture could increase the measured amount of sleep employees obtain, as well as their perception that their sleep was more sufficient," said Buxton.

At 12 months, the researchers found that employees who participated in the intervention experienced an average of eight minutes more sleep per night, which is nearly an hour more sleep per week, than the control group. Intervention participants' perceptions of their sleep sufficiency also improved.

The research was published in the journal Sleep Health.

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