By: Winston Mattis

There are many reasons that may explain why your boss may be agitated and just plain and outright mean. There may also be several reasons that help explain why your boss may not consistently be a jerk, tending to flip flop in management style.  Personality traits, or in some cases personality disorders (e.g. mood swings), stress on the job, personal stressors on and off the job, incompetence, management style, impostor syndrome and a host of other factors may all be contributors to a supervisor being sweet and gentle one day and mean, rude and reprehensible the next.

Sleep deprivation has long been linked to many illnesses, including mood swings, obesity in children, etc.

Oprah Winfrey recently conducted an interview with the owner of Huffington Post who made it clear that she now gets seven hours of sleep, a change she consciously made after collapsing from sheer exhaustion at work in a pool of her own blood.  Her experience sends out a clear signal that many workplaces across North America are actual time bombs because so many executives, managers, and supervisors are pushed to do more with less.  The push to make more, to create more, to do more, to take work home can’t support body rejuvenation.  Corporate cultures based on the principle of filling every last crevice of one’s calendar with work may inadvertently be creating workplaces that are ticking time bombs.

The foregoing opinion tends to be supported not only with anecdotal information, but also by a growing body of research.  Evidence that sleep deprivation can alter the quality and frequency of workplace relationship is prevalent.  Objective research suggests that people’s interactions at work are a function of the amount and quality of the sleep they get each night.

At the anecdotal level let’s take very busy consultants and lawyers as a proxy.  As a group they often get very little sleep.[1]  Experientially we are all aware that after about ten hours of work we cease being productive. With lack of sleep some consultants become so irritable, short, and impatient that they are not fun to be around.  It is absolutely painful to watch otherwise extremely nice and considerate people transform into colossal jerks simply because of time pressures to produce and conclude projects on time and within budget.  At the empirical level there seems to be a growing amount of research that links not only:

Christopher Barnes,  Lorenzo Lucianetti,  Devasheesh Bhave, and Michael Christian are authors of a recent study titled: You Wouldn’t Like Me When I’m Sleepy: Leader Sleep, Daily Abusive Supervision, and Work Unit Engagement.  These authors provide the following abstract to their recent study.

“We examine daily leader sleep as an antecedent to daily abusive supervisory behavior and work unit engagement.  Drawing from ego depletion theory, our theoretical extension includes a serial mediation model of nightly sleep quantity and quality as predictors of abusive supervision.  We argue that a poor night’s sleep influences leaders to enact daily abusive behaviors via ego depletion and these abusive behaviors ultimately result in decreased daily subordinate unit work engagement.

We test this model through an experience sampling study spread over ten working days with data from both supervisors and their subordinates.  Our study supports the role of the indirect effects of sleep quality (but not sleep quantity) via leader ego depletion and daily abusive supervisor behavior on daily subordinate unit work engagement.”

Virtually any study can be subject to criticism based on its definitional, methodological and theoretical soundness/bias.  Let’s leave all of those critical arguments aside for one moment and focus instead on substantive content:

The study is important from several perspectives.  Firstly, the study labels as abusive conduct that for many help explain a leader’s effectiveness.  Secondly, the study tends to turn upside down the range of appropriate responses to supervisor abusive conduct.  One impact of the study is to force organizations to examine whether overworking their leaders negatively impacts upon the organization’s culture and bottom line. Thirdly, the study’s conclusion seems to support a more wholesome approach to responding to issues that play themselves out at work.  The reason for poor quality sleep on occasions may have little to do with the organization, yet the impact of poor sleep plays itself out in the organization.  For example, the reason for poor quality sleep may have to do with pressures from marriage, childcare, elder care, illness, etc.  Some of the factors that impact upon poor sleep may be gender linked.  A mom, in a supervisory/leadership role may experience more fatigue than her male counterpart because child and elder care issues often land in a woman’s lap, more so than in the laps of men.

Indirectly, the research draws into question the basis upon which formal leaders are chosen within organizations.  Many large organizations provide formal leadership training programs to emerging leaders who are selected by existing leaders.  In highly technical functions leaders are often chosen based on technical, not people skills, yet their effectiveness at leadership is a function of their people skills, not always their technical abilities.  At least one factor that helps to determine who gets selected for leadership training is how hard the person works.  Hard workers tend to be rewarded in leadership selection. In certain organizations hard work is measured by the number of billable hours (e.g.: large law firms, large consulting firms, investment banks, IT firms and accounting firms).  Working long hours corresponds to sleep deprivation.  The irony is that leaders are selected in part because they work long hours, but the research results are suggesting that working long hours is counterproductive to effective leadership and leadership effectiveness.

When Arianna Huffington collapsed from exhaustion she was sleeping about four to five hours per night.  She changed and Huffington is now an advocate for organizational leaders getting at least seven hours sleep.

For Huffington lack of sleep does not compute.  It makes no sense.  For Ms Huffington lack of sleep does not only result in abusive leadership, it is a matter of life and death.

Huffington near death experiences should send chills through cell of every organizational leader, why?  They are walking down the Huffington pathway prior to her post-collapse awakening, so their abusive management tendencies are the least of their problems. Organizations that pride themselves managing by objective data should examine whether their practices are in sync with research.  Are organizations that provoke overworked and sleep deprived people in any position to produce effective, long-term leaders? Are such organizations doing anyone justice?

It is time for organizations to re-think the whole leadership selection process and what it takes to become an effective leader within the organization and make decisions based on the conjunctive: what people need to be effective as humans and as leaders.


By: Winston Mattis

If you are like some people, I know myself included; there is a particular point in the day when you become fatigue.  This is the time of the day when your eyes feel like fifty pounds of lead, are so drowsy that being at work is pointless.  In my case, it happens like clockwork. I can typically tell when it is about two o’clock in the day.  For me, two of the longest hours of each day are between 2:00pm and 4:00 pm.  These are the two hours that I need to grab a snooze to rejuvenate myself.  Most times, I need no more than fifteen minutes to be revived and fully functional all over again.  My productivity hits rock bottom each day in those two hours I euphemistically call “my down time” each day.

My productivity increases tenfold after my afternoon siestas.  There is absolutely no doubt about that.  It is almost as if I am on steroids once I get my afternoon siesta, so for me there are two highly productive times during the day between 6:00am and 1:00pm and the five hours after 7:00pm at nights.  I am not so arrogant to believe that I am not unique, it is likely that many people experience the same thing that I do all the time.

Drowsiness and fatigue while at work affect innumerable people.  There are many factors that contribute to fatigue and drowsiness at work.  Some of those factors are job related, while others arise from outside forces.

An employee’s work schedule, particularly shift work, is one systemic factor that may contribute to fatigue, particularly when there is insufficient sleep time between shift changes, yet strict adherence to master-servant law could give rise to the termination of an employee’s employment who is caught sleeping on the job, why?  Employers are masters of their own dens and they can demand that an employee remain awake at work at all times, regardless of the obvious productivity impact and in some cases attendant health and safety risks. Though judicial decisions may temper that right, the fact still remains that sleeping on the job is something that many employers do not tolerate.

I have been quite lucky, had I not been self-employed for most of my life, I probably would have been fired from my job many times over for sleeping on the job.  Luckily, I had the luxury of being in situations that I could close my office door and take a cat nap on the antique chaise lounge I bought myself specifically for that purpose.  No longer do I feel compelled to read the same half of a sentence five times without comprehending a word, I simply get up and grab a power nap, as I call them.

My own set of experiences lead me to ask whether there are companies in corporate Canada and America that recognize the value of providing employees with a place to pull a cat nap in circumstances in which they feel fatigued.

Admittedly, there are scores of occupations for which catching a short nap on the job poses Health and Safety and other risks that no employer can reasonably assume.

A crane operator in the midst of demolishing a large high rise cannot be permitted to take a cat nap or dose off in the middle of performing his or her duties, similarly serious production and other issues can arise when an assembly line employee doses off on the job.  Having said that though, there are plenty of occupations for which a short mid-shift nap hurts no one.  Large law firms for instance, often provide juniors with cots for them to sleep/pull a power nap as they work through the night or day.

Europeans grow up with the siesta practice; seemingly, Europeans grew up with a cultural tradition of taking a siesta from work mid-afternoon.  Perhaps because of the European tradition, or alternatively despite that tradition, corporate North American leaders are slowly recognizing the productivity value endemic in providing certain occupational classes with a place to rest, rejuvenate and revive themselves with a little mid-afternoon sleep.

Arianna Huffington of Huffington Post is an ardent advocate of helping its employees to rejuvenate.  Huffington Post reportedly provides its employees with beds under the guise of a productivity rationale. Among the impressive list of corporations that reportedly provides employees with a place to nap are: Google, Nike, and The House of Representatives

Despite the anecdotal remarks I make about my productivity I improve after am afternoon snooze.  There is growing empirical evidence supporting the assertion that providing employees with opportunities to take a nap at work boots productivity.

[1] The author of this piece has been fortunate to be included in both of those groups at various points in my life..