Wikipedia defines circadian rhythm as “any biological process that displays an endogenous, entrainable oscillation of 24 hours.” That means it is a natural, predictable biological cycle in each day of our lives.
If one tries to be sincerely committed to living a meaningful, moral life through business (and I certainly believe it is simply the selfish, efficacious, practical way to generate long-term business success), are there times of day when one is more inclined to unethical behavior? This is a question considered in a study done by Maryam Kouchaki of Harvard and Isaac Smith of the University of Utah discussed in this month’s Harvard Business Review (May, 2014, p. 34-5) titled “In the Afternoon, the Moral Slope Gets Slipperier”. Basically their research indicates that the stresses of each day may turn us into liars after lunch.
According to Kouchaki and Smith, people are 20% to 50% more likely to be dishonest in the afternoon because they are depleted of the resources they need for self-control. Gradually increasing fatigue can eventuate systemic moral failure. Dr. Kouchaki says, “There are simple ways to limit opportunities for immorality. For example, tasks with a moral component can be shifted to the morning and after breaks, when managers and employees are less depleted. At the very least, try to avoid scheduling those activities at the end of the day …. Exhaustion has costs, and one is a loss of control over the ability to make ethical choices. When your psychological resources are depleted, you are less likely to even recognize that an intended action (or inaction) has moral implications.”
Though we in the West often make mock of cultures with long afternoon breaks or siestas, it is perhaps we who are the fools. This study certainly buttresses my long-held intuition that breaks and periodic stops are a key to consistency of business values. (Note my post Napping to Greatness – July 16, 2023 and Laziness and Entrepreneurship – September 3, 2013, if interested.)
So can we nap our way to morality? Can we actually manipulate our inner time clock to making us better entrepreneurs and human beings? Well, maybe so. Perhaps managing our circadian rhythms is but another unacknowledged business skill. Through self-monitoring our inner-biological efficiency for different tasks we can glean intimations on everything from the best time to tweet to when to write inter-office memos to when to check email.
(For example, in an article in Thinking and Reasoning (Dec., 2011), Dr. Mareike Wieth found that when people have to solve problems with a high degree of creativity, they are much more successful when they tackle those problems at the time of day when they are least alert. So creativity is on a different circadian clock than morality.)
Interesting stuff this circadian research. But most interesting to me, as an aficionado of company culture and corporate meaning, is the fact we can probably buttress our own intent as leaders to ethical action by choosing the time of day we choose to deal with it.
Hillary Clinton once said, “The first lesson I’ve learned is that no matter what your do in your life, you have to figure out your own internal rhythms—I mean, what works for you doesn’t necessarily work for your friend.” Thanks, Hillary.