Many studies have looked at the impact of sleep deprivation on workers’ health, safety, and morale, says Pamplin College of Business management assistant professor Christopher Barnes, but few have considered its implications for unethical behavior. “Sleep deprivation may also contribute to unethical conduct in the workplace, which is costly to organizations,” says Barnes, who co-authored a recent study on the subject.
Barnes and three other scholars conducted four studies in different settings and situations to examine the influence of low levels of sleep in decision-making situations involving ethical considerations. “We consistently found that people were more likely to behave unethically when they were short on sleep,” he says.
An important practical implication of their research, he says, is that managers and organizations may play a larger role than previously thought in promoting unethical behavior — through excessive work demands, extended work hours, and shifts that result in night work, each of which, other studies show, has diminished employee sleep.
“We are not arguing that managers can or should completely control the sleep and unethical behavior of their subordinates,” Barnes says, “but that managers should recognize that many of their actions may have second-order effects on sleep and thus unethical behavior. Managers who push their employees to work long hours, work late into the night, or work sporadic and unpredictable schedules may be creating situations that foster unethical behavior.”
Barnes is the lead author of “Lack of sleep and unethical conduct,” co-authored with John Schaubroeck and Megan Huth of Michigan State University and Sonia Ghumman of the University of Hawaii and published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 115 (2011), 169–180.
Virginia Tech’s nationally ranked Pamplin College of Business offers undergraduate and graduate programs in accounting and information systems, business information technology, economics, finance, hospitality and tourism management, management, and marketing. The college emphasizes the development of leadership, technology, multicultural, and international business knowledge and skills and is committed to serving business and society through the expertise of its faculty, alumni, and students. It is named in honor of two alumni: the late Robert B. Pamplin, retired CEO of Georgia-Pacific, and businessman and philanthropist Robert B. Pamplin Jr.
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