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Bad Night’s Sleep Leads to Errant Work Behaviour

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Poor sleep can make employees more likely to offend in the workplace—and to continue offending in the future, a study has found. 

Being tired at work means employees are more likely to engage in errant behaviour, such as taking longer breaks than allowed, leaving early without permission and even stealing. Employees who are already prone to bad behaviour are more susceptible to the influence of sleep deprivation, a study from Rotterdam School of Management found.

In the study, working professionals were asked how well they had slept the night before for 10 consecutive working days. They were also asked to rate the extent to which they had engaged in unwanted behaviour—perhaps taking a longer lunch than necessary or being unpleasant to a coworker. And tired employees were found to be more likely to offend.

Researcher Laura M. Giurge said: “Going home early without telling the boss is an urge most people will feel occasionally but do not give into every time. And when people do, they often feel remorse afterwards and try to do better next time. It is known that this ability to regulate our impulses can be undermined by having had a bad night—not necessarily just by the amount of sleep, but also by impaired sleep quality.

“This negative effect of impaired sleep quality is especially strong among people with a so-called ‘low moral identity,’” she added.

Sleep deprivation can also make it more likely than employees continue offending in the future.

“Tiredness apparently can make it harder for people to overcome the feeling that they have failed at being a good and moral person and, as a result, do not try again the next day. This can lead into a possibly destructive cycle that could help explain why unethical behaviour is so persistent in some organisations,” Giurge said.

Errant behaviours such as those studied in research reportedly cost US firms up to $200 billion each year.

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