Travis Parker Martin
Night owls have long been viewed as undisciplined and even lazy. Here’s the truth, and how you can harness the full potential of the unique genetic hardwiring of your team.
If you’re an early bird, you’re likely used to pressuring the night owls on your team to start working when everyone else starts working and expect them to sleep at a decent time. As a boss, I’ve done it. In my mind, these employees were undisciplined because they stayed up too late and slept in as a result. But then I realized it’s not a lack of discipline, it’s genetics. And that changed everything.
According to sleep researcher Matthew Walker, the author of Why We Sleep, we likely have our parents to thank for being an early bird or night owl. “They are bound to a delayed schedule by unavoidable DNA hardwiring,” writes Matthew.
Research shows some people are hardwired as night owls.
In 2017, researchers at Rockefeller University discovered that a specific genetic mutation in the body clock of night owls pushes their circadian rhythms back, so by default they’re inclined to go to bed later at night and wake up later in the morning. “Carriers of the mutation have longer days than the planet gives them, so they are essentially playing catch-up for their entire lives,” said lead researcher Alina Patke.
Unfortunately, most of the working world is not built to accommodate night owls. From “morning huddles to a workday that ends between 3:30 and 5:30 p.m., early birds have set the schedule, and everyone else is forced to accommodate.
So what can you do to better harness night owls’ full potential? Here are three tips to get started:
1. Consider offering a flexible schedule.
Harness the unique strengths of employees with a delayed sleep schedule. Many companies are flexible on start times and end times, as long as there is a common five-to-six-hour window when all employees are working simultaneously.
Rethink the working hours you’ve set for your team members, and consider if they reflect everyone’s preferences, or just your own.
2. Reevaluate the workday structure.
Take a close look at when you tend to schedule meetings versus head-down deep work, as it may be biased toward people who are at peak productivity in the morning. Ask each team member when they feel most productive, and consider revising some aspects of their work around that.
3. Make concessions to help your team thrive.
Do what I wish I did earlier and give night owls some grace. Of course, you have high expectations for your team, but the goal is not to simply put in eight-hour days or avoid distractions. Instead, your goal as a leader in your company should be to have your entire team operating at peak capacity, regardless of their biological makeup. It will require concessions from them and you to build a working environment and schedule that allows everybody to thrive.
For too long, night owls have been incorrectly viewed as undisciplined in business. Harnessing the full potential of the unique genetic hard-wiring of every team member will not come naturally, but doing so effectively will give your team—and your company–a huge advantage.
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