I have always been fascinated by time and the role time plays in the organization of our lives. Imagine living in the Middle Ages, when sunrise and sunset shaped people’s lives.
Imagine living in Europe in the 1300s and suddenly having to obey a town hall bell that rang when you had to work, when you should eat lunch, and when you had to return home. The person who rings the bell has the power. Who was ringing the bell? The bells are still ringing early in the morning. 80% of the population in Europe, USA and Asia are woken up by an alarm clock (Roenneberg, 2012).
It is remarkable that we still organize our lives to follow the morning bells that disciplined our forefathers in time. We still more or less unconsciously celebrate the early riser, while looking down upon and devaluing the B-person (late riser), who does not fit into the rhythm of early nights and early mornings. Moralizing ditties remain alive: “The early bird gets the worm,” or “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” In the eyes of society, the ideal person goes to bed early, rises early, and meets early for work. You can even become a member of the “5AM Club”.
In 2018 a study from Northwestern Medicine and the University of Surrey in the UK, of nearly half a million participants in the UK Biobank Study, found that B-persons have a 10 percent higher risk of dying than A-persons. In the study sample, 50,000 people were more likely to die in the 6-year period sampled.
Farewell early rise!
It’s not wise for the majority of us. Our societies prize early risers (A-persons) – but most of us are late risers (B-persons). In a knowledge-based society getting up early in the morning is no longer what is important. Instead it is about working when you are most productive. Today, over 80 percent of a company’s value is intangible values according to the credit rating bureau, Standard & Poor’s (Ocean Tomo 2017). That means that the value in a modern company is found in knowledge, network, brands, customer relations, processes, and so on, and results in work situations that can increasingly be executed across time and space. This means that a large percentage of work is now independent of time and place. The time battle in the industrial society was about work time and free time. I believe that the new time battle is about working in sync with your inner, biological clock. Productivity and quality of life can be improved by letting people synchronize their work lives with their biological clocks. I call it chronoleadership.
It’s in your genes
A circadian rhythm is not something you choose. It’s something you’re born with.
In 2017 Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for discoveries about the molecular mechanisms controlling the body’s circadian rhythm. Professor Till Roenneberg, a leading researcher in chronobiology at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, has mapped the circadian rhythms of more than 300,000 people. The distribution of circadian rhythms (chronotypes) ranges from people rising extremely early (early chronotypes) to people getting to bed extremely late (late chronotypes), just as the human being ranges from being very tall to very short. Today, it is possible to have a 12 hours difference between the circadian rhythm of an extreme A-person and an extreme B-person.
Circadian rhythms as a competitive advantage
Our differences in circadian rhythms are a great competitive advantage in knowledge-based society, where technological developments and globalization make it possible as well as necessary to work at different times. As part of a globalized world, we need people in Europe who can communicate with Chinese businesses early in the morning and American businesses late in the evening. We need people who work around the clock any time of year –– without burning out. Work times are interrelated with infrastructure, which is similarly tied to opening hours in kindergartens and schools. Having people stuck in rush hour traffic jams every morning and afternoon is a waste of resources –– especially since it can be avoided.
Barriers to a flexible workplace
In the last 14 years I have worked with organisations in 17 countries. I’m specialised in creating flexible work cultures that support our differences in family forms, work forms and biological rhythms. I have identified following four barriers to a flexible workplace:
1) It is taboo to meet after 9 – a productive person meets early.
2) Leaders tend to favour A-persons –– those who arrive at the office early – conventions that we are socialized into performing in the educational system.
3) Flex time with fixed hours. You have to be in the office between 9 and 3. That is not flexible at all.
4) Your own mindset. Are you willing to set yourself free? It’s a mental hurdle to set yourself free from your inner farmer.
Communicating with B-persons
- Leave them alone in the mornings – give them the chance to opt into notifications after lunch
- Encourage them to do complicated work tasks in the afternoon or the evening.
- Promote exercise and staying physically active in the afternoon or evening.
- Encourage them to turn off the computer at least one hour before they go to sleep. Recommend installing f.lux, – software that dims screens on smartphones and laptops in the evening and at night. https://justgetflux.com
Communicating with an A-person
- Give them the choice to subscribe to notifications in the morning or before noon. Do not spend morning time on emails.
- Promote that morning Pilates course.
- Prioritise having a calm evening. Do not send them notifications after 5pm.
Imagine living in 2030. Your children are sleeping until they wake up and the educational system supports our differences in circadian rhythms. You choose your working hours so you can be in sync internal biological clock. It’s improves your health, well-being and performance.
Guest Post by Camilla Kring, PhD, Super Navigators ApS
About Camilla Kring
Camilla Kring is the founder of Super Navigators ApS and the B-Society. Based on her PhD research in work-life balance, she founded the consulting company Super Navigators ApS. Since then, she has spent the last 17 years applying her PhD research in practice in various organizations worldwide. Her mission is to make companies more attractive by increasing the work-life balance satisfaction of their employees. Furthermore in 2006, Camilla founded the B-Society. The mission of the B-Society is to increase the quality of life and productivity of B-persons by creating later starting times in schools and workplaces. The B-Society has members in 50 countries.