The Morality and Ethics of Night Owls and Early Birds

The early bird might get the worm, but he’s more likely to swindle you out of it by night, according to a recent study.The other side of the coin, though, is that night owls are more likely to behave unethically during the morning hours.

The study, conducted in conjunction with Johns Hopkins University, Georgetown University, and the University of Washington, explores the relationship between chronotype and morality.

The long and short of it is, that the time of day you’re most likely to behave ethically, or misbehave as it were, depends largely on your natural sleep disposition. In other words, the time of day you’re most likely to give in to temptation or behave unethically, is the time of day that is not a match for your preferred time of day.

Fluctuating Ethics

While some people are surprised to discover that ethics fluctuate within a person depending on the time of day (and other mitigating factors), it is no surprise to Georgetown University’s Sunita Sah.

Sah is quoted in HREOnline saying that ethics are not stable traits in people. She goes on to say, “People exhibit dynamic patterns of unethical behavior across the day based on their circadian rhythms. By understanding their chronotypes, people can help predict when ‘the better angels of their nature’ will appear.”

What does this Mean for Businesses?

Businesses should keep this in mind when scheduling employees to work. Some are better suited to working later shifts and better able to find their moral centers and behave ethically as long as they are working with their natural clocks, rather than against them.

The same holds true for those better suited to work daytime hours. Consider this during the hiring process and especially when scheduling shifts around the time in which time changes each year – as this tends to cause problems with natural circadian rhythms for weeks at a time. Avoid overtime shifts during this important time if at all possible, and pay close attention to schedule employees for shifts that match their individual tendencies.

Think about it. If decision making is adversely-affected by working against natural sleep rhythms, what other bad decisions could employees be making during these “mismatched” shifts? It is much better to err on the side of caution when it’s possible for your business to do so – in order to provide greater productivity, better decision making, and greater confidence in your employees.

It’s a small price to pay that promises big returns for businesses and for individuals alike. Look for jobs that match your interest, but that also do not work against your nature. Shift work is a good plan for talented professionals to match their natural body clocks to the jobs they hold.

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