Night-time smartphone work drains employee effectiveness in the morning

January 15, 2014

Think your smart phone enables you to do it all? Handle work tasks at night and still be sharp at the office the next morning?

Think again, says new research by Christopher Barnes, an assistant professor of management at the University of Washington Foster School of Business.

Barnes and co-authors Klodiana Lanaj of the University of Florida and Russell Johnson of Michigan State University summarize their forthcoming paper in a Harvard Business Review blog post.

“Smartphones are enormously valuable for helping people fit work activity into times and places outside of the office,” they write. “However, our new research indicates the greater connectivity comes at a cost: using a smartphone to cram more work into a given evening results in less work done the next day… Smartphones are bad for sleep, and sleep is very important to effectiveness as an employee.”

Barnes explains that smartphones keep us mentally engaged with work late into the evening, making it harder to detach, relax, and sleep deeply to recharge our batteries.

He adds that managers need to find creative ways to balance the downside of smartphone use with the significant upside of this powerful work tool. One possible solution cited is adopting predictable time off each day, a set time to power down and psychologically disengage from work. Another is establishing new norms of when employees are expected to respond to e-mails.

“As smartphones become more embedded in our daily lives, we should continue to seek solutions that will enable us to stay in touch with smartphones and still get the sleep we need to be effective the next day,” the authors conclude. “In contrast to a short-term perspective that puts the current work item as the top priority, a perspective that focuses on longer-term performance will leave more room for managing smartphones in a manner that preserves sleep.

“The more important the job, the more important it is to work with a fresh brain. We would do well to remember that, and not let our phones call the shots.”

“Beginning the Workday yet Already Depleted? Consequences of Late-Night Smartphone Use and Sleep” is forthcoming in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.