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Who Takes Flight Better at Work? The Lark or the Night Owl?

7.29.2013

Let’s get one thing out of the way. I’m not a morning person, and I’m okay with it. While practicality and simple conventions of life and working with clients on the East Coast prevent me from staying up until the wee hours of the morning and sleeping in until close to noon, I’m pretty sure that if I were a rock star, I’d adjust to that schedule just fine.

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I waited for that magic age to hit when I’d be unable to sleep past 7am on a weekend. I am so far from hitting anywhere close to that age or that natural waking hour that I suspect I will be the octogenarian rising at a graceful 10am at the nursing home. My question here is this: is there a better hire? the lark or the night owl? Well, early birds, those mysterious (to me) creatures who bound out of bed before the sun rises, get most of the good press for productivity, success, and, frankly, general superiority. You might even say the early bird catches the worm. "When it comes to business success, morning people hold the important cards," Christoph Randler, a biology professor at the University of Education in Heidelberg, Germany told the Harvard Business Review of his research on the subject. "[T]hey tend to get better grades in school, which gets them into better colleges, which then leads to better job opportunities. Morning people also anticipate problems and try to minimize them. They're proactive." Suddenly I’m feeling very bad about myself.

Do morning people make a better hire than the night owl? It depends on the job and what your company needs done. According to Forbes.com, “various studies have shown that morning people exhibit character traits like optimism, being agreeable, satisfaction and conscientiousness.” Leaders of human resources, operations, logistics, finance, and marketing in large corporate settings would typically call for these types of characteristics. Not to mention the role of CEO, a position that seems to all but require a tendency to rise early, with countless CEOs reporting  that they rise and shine at the 4:30 or 5:00am mark. Bill Lepiesza reported on the sleep habits of several top CEOs a few weeks ago, and the common theme was certainly an early rise. Though I would argue that their success has less to do with their early rise than their ability to get by on an ungodly (to me) small amount of sleep. They are night owls AND early birds.

What are night owls good for, I ask meekly? According to the same Forbes.com article, night owls are linked with creativity and intelligence, humor, and extroversion.” Now we’re getting somewhere!

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Executive roles in advertising, software engineering, strategy, recruiting (phew), and research would be good fits with the night owl disposition. And if you are a healthcare administrator staffing an emergency room for a busy night shift, well the night owls will win the day. According to a recent study at the University of Madrid, “evening types scored higher than morning types on inductive reasoning, which has been shown to be a good estimate of general intelligence and a strong indicator of academic performance. They also had a greater capacity to think conceptually as well as analytically. Such abilities have been linked to innovative thinking, more prestigious occupations and better incomes.” Huzzah!

The truth is, most people simply adjust to the schedule required of them, and with an increase in flexible schedules and greater accessibility at all hours of the day, we can all leverage our own peak productive hours to their best use. While we don’t predict that a report on waking hours will become a requirement along with references and a background check, it is interesting fodder while considering who is the right person for the right leadership role.  

 

 

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