Sleeping on the Job, Literally

One-third of employees take at least one nap during the workday every week. What the trend signals to employers.

As a junior associate at a prestigious law firm in New York, Jeremy worked long hours. He knew being seen at the office by the senior partners was important, so he went in early, stayed late, and often ate lunch at his desk. But a few afternoons a week, he would block out time on his calendar, walk down to Central Park, find a shady spot under a tree, and take a nap. 

Across America, workers are sneaking shut-eye into the workday, napping in cars, parks, and (for those at home) on couches and beds. A new survey by wellness company Sleep Doctor found that one-third of employees take at least one nap per week during work hours. Most take power naps, sleeping for less than 30 minutes, but 24% admitted to sleeping for an hour or longer. Remote workers nap longer and more often. 

The practice isn’t entirely new, of course, but experts say the prevalence of napping today may underscore workers’ levels of stress and burnout. For leaders, it’s another management challenge on top of slowing productivity, low engagement, and workers cutting out early, among others. “When people are sleeping on the job, they are sending a signal,” says Mark Royal, a Korn Ferry senior client partner specializing in employee engagement. “It’s up to leaders to figure out what sort of signal.” Royal notes that napping doesn’t necessarily convey disengagement. “Not everyone is fully engaged and staying on task all day, every day,” he says. “Napping could also be a signal of a need to refresh.”

The science on the connection between sleep and performance is well established. Short naps of 30 minutes or less have been shown to reduce stress, increase energy, improve focus, and more. From a corporate perspective, sleeping on the job has gone from a habit associated with slouches to one practiced by high performers. Industries like aviation (which is required by law to provide employees with rest) and technology (which has made nap rooms an office perk) have embraced on-the-job sleeping as a way of avoiding fatigue and enhancing performance. 

“If napping is occurring during a natural break, it doesn’t have to be a bad thing,” says Ron Porter, a senior client partner in the Global Human Resources Center of Excellence at Korn Ferry. “Instead of a shot of caffeine, some people can reenergize with a nap.” To be sure, 62% of workers cited the need to reenergize as their top reason for taking a nap during work, followed by a poor night’s sleep (owing in part to job-related anxieties), long hours, and stress. 

Greg Button, president of global healthcare services at Korn Ferry, says the data on napping is a symptom of the merging of work and life. People are organizing their days in atypical ways, and working and sleeping unusual hours. Others are making health and wellness a priority, and carving out more time for rest and relaxation, whether via meditation apps, quiet rooms, or midafternoon naps. “Companies, especially healthcare companies, are thinking hard about how to create space for employees to rest,” says Button. 

Not everyone napping during the workday is a high performer, however. According to the study, 17% of employees say they sleep on the job out of boredom or to avoid work. Tamara Rodman, a senior client partner in the Culture, Change, and Communications practice at Korn Ferry, draws a line between napping at work and quiet quitting. “It ties into this general malaise many workers are experiencing,” she says. 

For managers, the challenge is to distinguish between the high performer who’s recharging and the quiet quitter who’s slacking off. Under the circumstances, it might be tempting to increase surveillance of remote workers, but experts say that would be counterproductive. Accountability and trust are critical. “Napping to recharge can’t be a benefit absent accountability,” says Button. 


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