A TTÜ research project investigated the links between work arrangements and sleep of R&D employees

Illustrative photo. Source: pixabay.com
Illustrative photo. Source: pixabay.com

A study on the working arrangements of research and development (R&D) employees was completed under the leadership of the economists and medical researchers of Tallinn University of Technology. The study was based on a survey carried out among 153 creative R&D employees − engineers, scientists, product and IT developers. The total of 11 employers (private and public R&D companies, banks, technology and IT companies) were covered by the study.

Surely you have noticed that there are owl and lark type of people, as well as people who cannot be clearly classified under a specific evening or morning type. Getting to work on time might be a breeze for early birds but a challenge for owls, who would prefer to stay in bed, since they went to sleep late. The conventional “nine-to-five” work schedule might not be suitable for all employees. One of the aims of the study carried out among Estonian research and development employees was to find out the links between the employees′ work outcome, work arrangements, sleep schedule and sleep disturbances.

The head of the international research group, Professor at the TTÜ Department of Economics and Finance Aaro Hazak said, “We found that the sleep schedule of evening-oriented employees or “owls” was considerably more affected by conventional work arrangements than that of other types of employees. The reasons do not have to be sought far – the conventional working schedule is obviously more suitable for the morning type than for the evening type of people. At the same time, the so-called morning and evening type of people perceive the results of their work as higher compared to the “typeless”. The work performance of “typeless” people is affected e.g. by daily communication, noise and other disturbing factors involved in working at conventional working hours.”

The survey revealed that, in addition to the gender and age related pay gap, there is a pay gap between morning and evening type of people. The evening-oriented people are less likely to receive higher pay than others. Recent international studies have discovered links between people′s sleep schedules and genetic factors. It is difficult for a person to change his/her sleep schedule, which is why the pay gap between morning and evening type of persons is no different, by its nature, from the gender or age related pay gap. In addition, it should be taken into account that the sleeping habits caused at least partially by genetic background should not be a factor that affects the person′s possibilities to work at a time suitable for him/her. Therefore it is very important to provide flexible working time options.

In addition, it appeared that those who sleep less than the usual 7-8 hours tend to prefer a working week spread over 6-7 days – this would probably allow them to have a more optimal distribution of working and sleeping time. People who sleep at normal sleeping hours are more likely to prefer the standard five-day working weeks.

The study shows that creative employees who have the flexibility to choose when they work experience less daytime sleepiness. They also feel that their sleep is less disturbed by work constraints compared to those who are provided less flexibility in the timing and place of work.

“Flexitime and distance work may therefore help considerably – at least the creative R&D employees – in reducing daytime sleepiness and increasing productivity by taking into consideration the specificities of morning and evening type employees,” Professor Hazak asserts.

The international research group led by TTÜ scientists has investigated the factors that affect the outcome of work of creative R&D employees since the year 2015. The study focused in particular on the links between flexible working time and place, work efficiency and the employee′s time use, sleepiness, tiredness and happiness.

Additional information about the project: http://www.ttu.ee/ta2

Contact details: Aaro Hazak, Professor at the TTÜ Department of Economics and Finance, aaro.hazak@ttu.ee or phone 620 4057 (Eva Laura Auling, research coordinator of the Department)