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Sleeping on the job: not just for slackers

sleepingIf you’re like most nine-to-five workers, you probably feel a bit slow sometime after lunch. Maybe you reach for another cup of coffee or tea. Maybe you grab some fresh air, a piece of fruit or something sweet and sugary to get you through. But in many cases what you really want is to place your head on your desk and close your eyes for a few minutes. Of course you can’t though—what employer in its right mind would let you do that?

It’s not so far-fetched. Many workers have heard or seen co-workers or supervisors sneak off for a quick nap, and surely the boss isn’t always making important calls when he shuts his office door for an hour, right? Well, what’s good for the boss is good for the worker, according to Tony Schwartz, CEO and president of The Energy Project, an organizational engagement and effectiveness consultancy. In fact, in his book, The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working, Schwartz suggests employers should insist employees take naps!

“The conclusion is inescapable: the more hours we work continuously, the greater the toll on our performance” he says.

Workplace naps have corporate proponents though, and if blog coverage is any measure, it looks like people are spreading the news.

Studies say a short nap between one and three o’clock refreshes a person. One study found long-haul pilots who take naps are much more alert in the second half of a flight than those who don’t. But keep it to less than 30 minutes to avoid “sleep inertia”, the sluggish or cloudy feeling that people who nap for too long describe.

Employers of course do have valid reasons to worry about workers napping. Sleeping employees aren’t working—producing reports, serving customers, building things or buying and selling. And many employers aren’t quite ready to accept that a quick nap will lead to greater productivity, health, safety and results.

Moreover, what company wants to be the first one to tell its competitors that its allowing employees to sleep on the job? Only a year ago, the Toronto Transit Commission faced a significant public backlash after a customer caught one of the commission’s ticket collectors taking a few unscheduled zees in his booth. This sort of news give workplace napping a bad name, but if this worker had been allowed to take a quick snooze mid-shift, the booth incident might never have happened. (Actually, the TTC is continuing its campaign against sleep, recently warning staff that they will face punishment if they get caught in the act.)

I’m sure napping isn’t the only way to rejuvenate yourself in the afternoon. Even Schwartz’s own research seems to indicate that other methods might be as effective as napping. If it is continuous work that wears us down, maybe any number of other brief diversions might work. Also, not everyone finds napping easy, and if a person spends her or his nap time worrying about trying to fall asleep, that’s probably not a productive use of time.

Many people swear by coffee or other caffeinated or energy drinks. Some like a breath of fresh air—maybe even a brisk walk or a jog. Exercise—anything that gets the heart rate to a certain level—provides lasting stimulation (among other benefits). I’m pretty sure hitting the gym or yoga studio on lunch break are acceptable activities. And is anyone going to tell you that you can’t meditate with your eyes closed at your desk or in your workplace prayer room for 20 minutes?

Whatever the case, I look forward to the day when employees lay pillows on their desks with pride.

Have you ever taken a nap at work—authorized or not? Have you caught a co-worker doing it? Does your employer condone napping? What other ways do you use to energize yourself throughout your workday?

Adam Gorley
First Reference Human Resources and Compliance Editor

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Adam Gorley

Adam Gorley is a copywriter, editor and researcher at First Reference. He contributes regularly to First Reference Talks, Inside Internal Controls and other First Reference publications. He writes about general HR issues, accessibility, privacy, technology in the workplace, accommodation, violence and harassment, internal controls and more. Read more
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