Free coffee, naps for all could mean a more ethical workplace - The Buffalo News

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Free coffee, naps for all could mean a more ethical workplace

I have long been an advocate for ethical behavior in the workplace, so today I call on my elected representatives, whomever they may be, to support an important new piece of legislation: the Caffeine and Naptime Workplace Ethics Bill of 2014.

This bill would help prevent unethical behavior in the workplace by requiring every company in America to provide workers with free coffee (fresh-brewed, none of that instant garbage) and mandatory nap times (with “nap coaches” on hand to assist and, if necessary, sing lullabies).

What makes me think this bill would make a difference? One simple word: science!

OK, not all of science, but a lot of science!

OK, maybe just this one new study that came out, but c’mon, ease up a little, I’m trying to score us free coffee and naps.

Researchers from the University of Washington, the University of Arizona and the University of North Carolina found that workers who are sleep-deprived are more likely to cave in to unethical behavior, particularly when bosses or managers are pushing them in that direction.

But when those workers were given gum that contained about the same amount of caffeine as a 12-ounce cup of coffee, they had more energy and tended to behave more ethically.

The study, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, notes that the number of hours Americans work each year is rising, while the number of hours we sleep is trending down.

A study by the National Sleep Foundation (that’s my kind of foundation) showed that the percentage of Americans who sleep fewer than six hours a night increased from 13 percent to 20 percent from 1999 to 2009.

If you think about how your mind works when you’re running on fumes, it’s easy to imagine being more inclined to look for shortcuts or more easily swayed to do something wrong.

“A lot of organizations and industries are enmeshed in this macho culture where it’s actually cool to be sleep-deprived,” said Michael Christian, assistant professor of organizational behavior at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and a co-author of the study. “I’ve heard stories of stock traders who show up in the same clothes they wore the previous day, even though they slept. They wore the same clothes to make it look like they haven’t slept. As a manager, you don’t want the really tired person making the important ethical decision that day.”

We’re in an age when ethics are crucial, as public trust in business has plummeted. Last year, the public relations firm Edelman found in a global study that only 19 percent of people trusted business leaders to make ethical and moral decisions.

Christian said the variation in bad behavior that he and lead researcher David Welsh of the University of Washington observed wasn’t huge.

“But I think it’s significant in that it’s meaningful any time you can predict when someone is going to be more susceptible to unethical influences or when they’re going to do something that could have a significant impact on other people or on the organization’s well-being,” Christian said. “In business, we are operating in groups with colleagues and peers, typically in hierarchical structures. Figuring out what can help people resist or what makes people succumb to unethical influences is, I think, critical.”

So why not make sure workers can easily get a cup of coffee or tea, or maybe an energy drink if they’re feeling adventurous? Encouraging naps at work sounds odd, but why not give people a chance to mentally recharge for a half-hour, particularly if it could mean the difference between a good and a bad decision?

“Another thing organizations can do is try to help their employees be aware of the possible negative effects of sleep deprivation,” Christian said.

They can also encourage proper “sleep hygiene,” which involves steps such as exercising, going to bed at the same time every night, and not watching television or staring at a smartphone right before bed.

Companies are moving toward a more employee-first mindset, and healthy workplace cultures are certainly on the rise.

“For those organizations that have made strong attempts to change their culture, those organizations probably have a lower incidence rate of unethical behavior,” Christian said. “I can’t say for sure that it’s because of well-rested employees, but I think, holistically, it’s the whole package. If I think my organization cares about me and encourages the work/life balance that allows me to be a well-rested individual who’s happy and healthy, then I’m going to want to do things that ultimately help that organization.”

But just in case that sensible approach isn’t adopted by companies everywhere, I encourage you to help me rally support for the Caffeine and Naptime Workplace Ethics Bill of 2014.

I’ll see you at the rally. Please bring coffee.

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