The Case for Night Owls and Flexible Work Hours

Morning people earn about 4 to 5 percent more on average than people who prefer evening hours (Bonke 2012). It’s not because they’re harder workers or go-getters. It’s not because the early bird catches the worm. Morning people earn more because the norms for work hours are set up in their favor. That’s the argument a few researchers who study sleep and productivity have been making, and the solution they say is in flexible work hours.

Being a morning person, sometimes also called a lark, or a night owl is a real biological quality. It’s known as our chronotype, which essentially describes a person’s circadian rhythm. Some people wake up earlier and seem to be more efficient and productive in the morning and early afternoon while others don’t hit their groove until much later in the day or night. Figuring out whether a person is a lark or an owl isn’t just a matter of asking someone either. Researchers look at more objective factors, too, such as the amount of serotonin an individual produces and when, as well as the mid-point of their sleep cycle to determine a person’s chronotype.

There are other types of people beyond just morning or night, too. Some people are short sleepers, like those who go to bed late and still wake up early, and long sleepers, who do the opposite. Teenagers tend to be long sleepers, for example. Sussing them all out is a little beside the point, though, because the solution would seemingly work for them all.

The idea starting to gain traction is that it’s not the night owl’s fault for earning 4 to 5 percent less on average than larks. Traditional work hours favor early risers, and there is a whole moralistic social history to explain it. But setting aside the historical context, the issue is that there are more jobs and better paying jobs set up for someone who is at their best between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. than someone who works better at night. Larks also tend to work more hours on average and sleep more, too, both of which could also be attributed to standard working hours being set in their favor.

A few researchers, Bonke included, have made the argument that productivity would rise if workers were able to work flexible work schedules. In a lot of businesses, such as those that frequently communicate with people in different time zones, it makes sense. But other problems crop up when people work non-traditional hours. Parents, for example, can’t change the hours their kids are in school or when day care is available. Certain jobs are time-dependent, too, and don’t allow for some employees to work different shifts. For those who are willing and able to work non-traditional hours, however, there’s a fairly uncomplicated financial case to be made for why they should.

References

Bonke, J. (2012). Do Morning-Type People Earn More than Evening-Type People? How Chronotypes Influence Income. Annals of Economics and Statistics, No. 105/106: 55-72. DOI: 10.2307/23646456. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/23646456.

Image by Stuart Richards, CC.

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