Matching your workflow to your body clock could make a massive difference to your performance at work.
If work performance researcher Dr Stefan Volk keeps spreading his message, one day we might all list our “chronotype” on our resume when applying for a new job.
Your chronotype refers to your inbuilt personal body clock that controls all sorts of bodily functions, such as your temperature, energy levels and melatonin (sleep hormone) fluctuations. It’s genetically determined and is also affected by age, with children and elderly almost always being “morning people”.
“The biggest variety is between ages 20 to 50, which is indeed the working population,” explains Dr Volk from the University of Sydney’s Body Heart and Mind in Business Research Group.
“[When] people work outside their natural rhythm, things take longer and they are less efficient.”
Dr Volk says that most of us realistically only have a three-hour block when we are at our most efficient each day, and if you can structure your workday around your personal peak, there’s a good chance you will perform better.
“The rest of [our day] is a lot about networking and talking,” he says.
How to determine your peak hours
While there are lab tests that measure things like body temperature and hormonal fluctuations to precisely pinpoint someone’s peak window, Dr Volk says online chronotype questionnaires have actually been proven to be just as accurate.
“They ask very simply questions, such as ‘When do you wake up on the weekend without an alarm clock?’ and ‘When do you prefer to do certain types of work?'” he explains.
“It sounds a bit simplistic, but they have been validated against these hard lab measures.”
If you discover that you are a natural night owl, then it might be worth speaking to your boss about starting your day later when you’re less groggy.
“You could send your boss an email with a link to [chronotype information] or put it on boards internally or send it to HR,” Dr Volk says.
“In our experience, it’s about talking to managers and making them aware that this is a factor.”
The body clock bias
Dr Volk’s research also shows that many workplaces discriminate against night owls and celebrate morning people, regardless of how each objectively performs.
“There is a bit of a morning bias in society,” he explains.
“Assessment tasks are typically performed earlier in the day when morning people are at their best, which means these people tend to perform better. Evening people typically have to take those tests at a time when they are not at their best, which means we are underestimating their potential.”
Further, Dr Volk says that bosses tend to look favourably on people who get to work earlier.
“The first person in the office is always admired [as being] diligent and hard-working, and people who come in a little later because their rhythm is a bit different, feel guilty about it,” he says.
“We notice from our research that when your boss is a morning person and you are an evening person, you get bad performance evaluations.”
If your boss is an evening type however, Dr Volk says research suggests they’ll be less discriminatory.
The future of chronotypes at work
Ideally, Dr Volk says that chronotypes would be taken into consideration when selecting people for specific roles.
“It makes sense to use it as a selection tool for certain jobs,” he says.
“For example, with surgeons, you want the morning types to work together in the morning and the evening types to work together in the evening.”
Ultimately, Dr Volk says that workplaces should cater for people’s chronotypes, just as they do other skills, in order to get the most out of team members.
“Awareness and understanding helps a lot, both with colleagues and supervisors,” he says.
“You want to make the best use of a team member – you should know their skills and their individual differences and make use of them as much as possible.”