How are smartphones and sleepy bosses alike?

Both demonstrate sleep disruption is bad for business

There is a large body of evidence showing that insufficient sleep causes all sorts of problems in the workplace. For example, poor sleep hygiene has been linked to cyberloafing, work injuries, and unethical behavior.

One of the newest causes of poor sleeping in our connected world is the smartphone, especially when used after 9 p.m. Researchers Christopher M. Barnes, Klodiana Lanaj, and Russell Johnson believed the blue light emitted by smartphones could inhibit the production of melanin, the sleep-promoting hormone.

They tested the hypothesis by having 82 mid-level managers complete multiple surveys per day over a two week period. They compared each participant’s responses only to that person’s data on other days. In that first study they discovered that, yes, late-night smartphone use cut people’s sleep time, and they were less engaged the next day.

In a second study, they had 161 employees from a variety of occupations — both managers and non — complete the same surveys as in the first test, with added questions about late-night TV, laptop, and tablets. Smartphones still stood out as having the biggest impact on work engagement.

The best counter is for people to establish predictable time off. For example, deciding to turn off the smartphone at 9 p.m., and not turn it on until 6 a.m. (Of course this is specifically bad for people like me, since I read on my smartphone at night, prior to going to sleep.)

And new research into the sleep hygiene of managers reveals what may be unsurprising, in retrospect. Again, Christopher Barnes and fellow researchers Lorenzo Lucianetti, Devasheesh Bhave, and Michael Christian wondered what makes bosses abusive, and — lo and behold — sleep is important for restoring a person’s capacity to exert self-control, so sleep disruption should lead to bad bossing.

In this study, they conducted a field study with 88 leaders and their direct reports. Again, the managers were surveyed about their sleep the night before and their perception of their self-control at that moment. The subordinates filled out surveys during the same two weeks about any abusive behavior from their bosses. Again, these were within-individual analyses, using data from the given leader and subordinates.

In this case it turns out that sleep quality — not quantity — had the greatest effect on abusive behavior, so a leader with a poor night’s sleep was more likely to be a jerk. And that behavioral change on the part of the leaders causes their subordinates to be less engaged.

So, bosses — and maybe everyone — should be careful with sleep hygiene, and to turn off that smartphone before 9 p.m.

This post was written as part of the Dell Insight Partners program, which provides news and analysis about the evolving world of tech. To learn more about tech news and analysis visit TechPageOne. Dell sponsored this article, but the opinions are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dell’s positions or strategies.

Originally published at

Work ecologist. Founder, Work Futures. The ecology of work and the anthropology of the future.

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