TUCSON, Ariz., US – Lack of sleep, a common condition in the U.S. workforce, can lead to unethical behavior in the workplace, according to research by business professors at the University of Washington, the University of Arizona, and the University of North Carolina.
But the equivalent of a large cup of coffee can help sleep-deprived employees bolster their ability to control their behavior and resist unethical temptations, according to their new study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.
“When you’re sleep deprived at work, it’s much easier to simply go along with unethical suggestions from your boss because resistance takes effort and you’re already worn down,” said David Welsh, an organizational behavior professor at the University of Washington. “However, we found that caffeine can give sleep deprived individuals the extra energy needed to resist unethical behavior.”
“According to our research, sleep deprivation contributes to unethical behavior at work by making you more susceptible to social influences, such as a boss who tells you to do something deceptive or unethical. Caffeine can help employees resist such temptations,” said Michael Christian, an organizational behavior professor at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School.
“It helps to strengthen self-control and willpower when employees are sleep deprived.”
Christian and lead author David T. Welsh of the University of Washington and co-authors Aleksander P. J. Ellis and Ke Michael Mai of the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona published their findings in the article “Building a Self-Regulatory Model of Sleep Deprivation and Deception: The Role of Caffeine and Social Influence.”
“We built on our earlier research that shows that the lack of sleep depletes a person’s ability to regulate their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors and increases unethical acts,” said Christian. “Our new study examines the role of caffeine in self-regulation and the ability to resist the negative influence of powerful others – those with influence or authority – when sleep deprived.”
“Employers need to be aware that today’s employees are working longer hours and getting less sleep,” said Welsh. “Establishing an ethical code of conduct may not be sufficient if employees are too worn down to align their behavior with organizational standards.”