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Dismantling the All-Nighter Culture: Just Because Your Organization Never Sleeps Doesn't Mean You Shouldn't

Employers should take the lead by dismantling the "all-nighter" culture, rewarding performance by measures other than by hours logged. Staying late in the office, or firing off emails at 3AM, shouldn't be seen as a mark of success, but a warning sign.
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It's a bit rich to complain about the tyranny of constant time-zone travel when your organization has "Global" in the name. But working (and waking) at all hours is the exhausting new reality of the modern workplace. Ubiquitous technology was supposed to liberate us from the constraints of the workplace, but something like the opposite has happened. The literal notion of a "workplace" is receding into memory, at least in the sense of a physical space that keeps your work obligations walled off from what remains of your daily life. The treadmill is an office these days; the subway car; the escalator after a movie that allowed you the luxury of a couple of device-free hours.

Across the world, Global Citizen whirs along without pause, from daybreak in Sydney until lights out in California. As one team of activists and volunteers pack up for the day, another is assembling, raring to go. Official work hours across fill all but four hours of each day, but the truth is Global Citizen never sleeps and, as leaders within the organization, the risk is neither do we. If we allow ourselves to be considered one instant-message away from immediate contact, sleep becomes near-impossible anywhere with an Internet connection.

I personally need to get more than seven hours sleep a night to function well and be a good leader. I function very poorly without it. While I like to be available for my team late hours every night, once I am off to bed, I turn my phone off. Unless we are on the verge of a major partnership, or the launch of a new campaign, I am unavailable once I'm off to sleep.

Few, if any, employees at Global Citizen are in it for the money. We attract incredibly talented and driven people who join us to make a positive difference in the world. Many of them are in the first stages of their career, not too far removed from the graduate school culture of "all-nighters." They often consider putting in long hours a badge of honor. I was exactly the same during the early days of my activism. You think that sleeping is cheating, and that any hour not dedicated to pursuing the cause is a wasted one. Anyway, we're young -- who needs sleep, right?

Wrong.

A little counterintuitively, research from the National Sleep Research Foundation shows that young people need more sleep, not less. And sleep deficit is not just bad for the individual's health and well-being -- although that is reason enough to get people resting more -- it doesn't help the organization anyway. As the Harvard Business Review noted, "stay awake longer than 18 consecutive hours, and your reaction speed, short-term and long-term memory, ability to focus, decision-making capacity, math processing, cognitive speed, and spatial orientation all start to suffer." I've witnessed more times than I could count: without sufficient rest, even the 'sharpest tool in the shed' loses its edge.

Employers should take the lead by dismantling the "all-nighter" culture, rewarding performance by measures other than by hours logged. Staying late in the office, or firing off emails at 3AM, shouldn't be seen as a mark of success, but a warning sign.

It's long been accepted that you don't turn up to the office with a flu. A chronic lack of sleep may not be as contagious, but its impact on a team member's performance and cognitive functioning can equally severe.

A watchful manager will often spot the symptoms before the individual, and we should intervene to encourage better sleep health. Ask the team member why their workload has become unmanageable. Can they shift or share some of their functions or responsibilities? Do you need help with time management?

As leaders, we should also demonstrate through our own work habits the importance of balancing professional demands with the need for a good night's sleep -- and, if we're lucky, a personal life, too.

Learn more about what it takes to be a Global Citizen here.