Napping at Work

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Many moons ago, while in college, I had a summer job at a service station working the night shift. That meant hours running from 11 PM to 8 AM. While for many this might seem like cruel and unusual punishment, I loved it. One big reason, other than the relatively reduced traffic in the middle of the night (i. e. , workload) and the coolness of most evenings when compared to those hotter-than-Hades afternoon shifts, was a traditional, if unofficial benefit built into every shift: those on duty used to take turns stealing away for one nap each and every shift.

That unusual feature/benefit was much loved by myself and my co-workers. We would climb a short ladder to a cramped supply loft when it came our turn, settle in with a cushion, turn out an overhead light, then drop away to snooze-land. This arrangement all worked well the entire summer until one night I found myself jerked awake by a co-worker flipping the light switch on and off to get me up, while yelling, “Get up, get up! We wuz just robbed!” Huh, say what? 911 in progress and I had slept through the whole thing. But hey, that story’s for another day!

This column is about the nap itself. It seems such once furtive, dead-of-night-only employee activity has begun emerging from the closet (or the loft, in my case!). Thanks to the criticality of staying competitive and keeping productivity sky-high, many employers now actually allow and encourage naps, in broad daylight even, building them into employee benefit packages.

No small factor for the cause of this revolution are the reports of many researchers that American workers now work longer hours than ever and yet are sleeping less at night. Something’s got to give somewhere, there are after all only so many hours in a 24x7 week, so, to get things done both at home and on the job, workers are cutting back on sleep, leaving them vulnerable to the drowsies during the day.

This obviously means they will often not be in tiptop shape while performing for the boss. As the original President George Bush might have put it, this is “bad, bad. ”

To view the wide picture, takes a scan at the results of a study done by the National Sleep Foundation:

  • 51% of American workers say sleepiness on the job interferes with the amount of work they get done

  • 40% admit the quality of their work suffers as they find themselves about ready to nod off

  • 68% feel sleepiness during the day may be interfering with their concentration

  • 25 % say they’ve great difficulty getting up for work two or more workdays per week

    As a result, there’s a movement afoot (naturally) to allow more snoozing on the job. Dr. William Anthony, author of “The Art of Napping at Work, ” explains, “The main advantages that stick out for the worker and employer are that napping enhances productivity and mood, and that you are able to concentrate better, do tasks longer, and listen to people better as well as feel more satisfied about work. ” Translation: a catnap a day keeps the competition away.

    Does your employer currently allow you to nap on the job? 16% of employees in the survey say their employer does. How can you get yours to do the same?

    After you’ve asked, cajoled, lobbied, begged, there may be one last way: Some afternoon after lunch, just change into your jammies, fluff a pillow up behind your head, take off your shoes and stretch out those dogs right up and over your keyboard. When your boss walks by, he’ll get the hint… ah, that is, unless he gives you the boot instead!

    Ken Lizotte CMC is Chief Imaginative Officer (CIO) of emerson consulting group inc. (Concord, MA), which transforms consultants, law firms, executives and companies into “thoughtleaders. ” This article is an excerpt from his newest book “Beyond Reason: Questioning Assumptions of Everyday Life".

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