Uh Oh! Sleep Deprivation is Linked to Unethical Behavior

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sleep deprivation

How much sleep did you get last night? If you work at a small business, it’s probably less than six hours.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, twenty percent of Americans report getting fewer than six hours of sleep each night. Anything under seven hours is clinically defined as sleep deprivation.

How Does Yawning Affect Your Work?

In a recent Bloomberg BusinessWeek article, a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that sleep deprivation is linked to unethical behavior. When people are tired, their self-control and willpower are weak, making it more likely to give in to unethical temptations at work.

This happens when an employee takes a suggestion from a co-worker to do something deceptive like stealing the food from the office fridge. This happens because they are tired and their conscience has less mental energy to fight it.

This has drastic implications for small business owners. Many of them think that people who work the longest hours are the best employees. However, as described in Fortune, a new study asserts that these are often the ones making the most unethical choices.

What Can Be Done?

The most logical answer is to get more sleep, but this is not always possible. Luckily there is another solution – coffee.

Researchers say caffeine increases an employee’s self-control and willpower when they are exhausted. That’s right, now coffee can make you more ethical!

Other than increasing caffeine, below are some other strategies you can do to improve ethical behavior:

For Owners:

  • Don’t force social interaction. A lunch break is a time of rejuvenation during the work day for employees. However, according to a 2014 Academy of Management Journal article, this is only the case when employees are allowed to leave the office and use their time freely.
  • Reconsider goal-based compensation.  This pay structure is dangerous because it encourages employees to take on a constant stream of goals, which actually makes people more likely to cheat to get everything done.
  • Turn on the lights. Having a brightly lit office makes people less likely to cheat according to a 2013 study published in Psychological Science.

For Employees:

  • Don’t eat lunch at your desk. Get out of the office and away from your co-workers for 45 minutes. Meet a friend at a café nearby and get your mind off of deadlines for genuine refreshment during the work day.
  • Use email. A Cornell University study tracked undergraduate communications and found that people lied only 14% in email compared with 37% on the phone because of the paper trail.
  • Celebrate your accomplishments. Jumping right into the next big project in order to achieve that long list of goals is prime for cutting corners. Take a break to restore your energy between projects. This will help you complete each one with quality effort and integrity.
  • Be mindful of your work space. A 2008 study published in Science found that people are more likely to cheat in unorganized environments because a mess has more signs of socially deviant behavior. Sort through that ever-growing stack of papers and throw out that rotting banana to welcome your most honest work behavior.

Tired Photo via Shutterstock

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Barry Moltz Barry Moltz gets small business owners unstuck. With decades of entrepreneurial ventures as well as consulting with countless other entrepreneurs, he has discovered the formula to get business owners marching forward. His newest book, BAM! shows how in a social media world, customer service is the new marketing.

3 Reactions
  1. Hmm. I don’t know about this one. On the one hand, I can see how lack of sleep/tiredness can impact one’s decisions, thoughts and emotions. I’ve been there. …But on the other hand, I’m not sure what the study’s trying to prove by making that connection. Does it then absolve (or partly resolve) someone of responsibility when they do something unethical when sleep deprived? Is that what the study’s implying?

  2. I wish I can do that. But getting out of the office is not only time consuming, it is also quite costly in my opinion. I don’t easily get stressed anyway except for noisy office mates.