How to Kill Employee Brainpower, Creativity, & Longevity

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Scenario: "Buddy, you've got to work 100-hour work weeks if you want to be here. I'm the boss, and I make everybody do it. If you don't accept that, get lost loser. Yay!" The Web-2.0/Internet-business world, a good portion of the I-Banking world, the legal fields, the engineering schools, et. al, all promote the "Let's-work-them-like-a-mofo-because-we-have-to-be-best!" mindset. Sure, they mean well.
  • Besides, the longer employees work, the more productive they are, right?
Blah. Blah. Yadda, yadda, blah. That conventional wisdom sucks more than a Milli Vanilli remix.

Why no sleep = super bad.

A lack of sleep kills your employees in three ways:
  1. Productivity decreases dramatically.

    Employee brains work much harder for way smaller results. It's as if you're dragging your feet trying to run a 100-mile marathon. A study explained the phenomenon:


    Researchers expected to find only sluggish activity in the brains of healthy young people who took a simple word test after staying awake for 35 hours.


    They found instead that while parts of the sleep-deprived brains churned with activity during the test, another part of the brain -- the language center -- shut down.
  2. You ruin employee creativity.

    Have you tried working 10-hours hours straight on some project? Chances are: after the first two hours, your creativity pummeled. When you force employee brains to work continuously without sufficient breaks, they'll use up their brain-tanks. If you don't let them refill those tanks with sleep, you'll exhaust their brainpower to be creative. Says Harvard Med's Dr. Charles A. Czeisler:
    If they average four hours of sleep a night for four or five days, they develop the same level of cognitive impairment as if they'd been awake for 24 hours -- equivalent to legal drunkenness. Within ten days, the level of impairment is the same as you'd have going 48 hours without sleep. This greatly lengthens reaction time, impedes judgment, and interferes with problem solving.
  3. You cause quick burnout.

    The annual turnover rate at a typical investment firm hovers around 25%. We'd safely assume you could double that number for the Silicon Valley start-up community. Lack of sleep serves as the prime ingredient to business burnout. The Kenyans can't run never-ending marathons; what makes you think your employees can?

"So what do I do?"

Use our "radical" one-rule approach:
  • Rule ^1: Turn off the office lights before 7p.m.

    Sure, your company might start its work day at 2 p.m.; if that's the case adjust the 7 p.m. time accordingly. Bottom line: Your business doesn't exist between a chunk of time in a day (e.g. 7 p.m. -- 9 a.m.).
    And no, that's not confined to just the office.
    • Close access to corporate systems.
    • No Blackberrys.
    • No emails.
    • No "business dinner meetings."
    • And whatever else: ___________________.

    This "lights-out-at-7" approach forces your employees to work frantically within the time they're allowed; equally important: it allows them the all-too-important 8 hours of sleep.

Why Rule ^1 Works

Say you're a super hot teacher (since you're already hot), and you assign your class a 10-page paper -- then you tell your bad self: "Should I make the due date 7-months or 7-days?"
  • Scenario 1: With a 7-month assignment, your students won't start working productively until that last week.
  • Scenario 2: A 7-day assignment on the other hand forces your students to work like a crazy, productive mother $^@%^%@ -- or they'll get a bad grade.
You'll likely get the same results regardless of the due date (And we qualify: as long as it's not a super short-ass one). That's why we love Rule ^1: The shorter the deadline (i.e. amount of time you're allowed to work), the more you boost employee productivity. Importantly, Rule ^1 leaves time for the all-too-important-but-horribly-underrated: sleeeeeeeeeeeeep! A good night's sleep in turn increases employee morale, creativity, and longevity. Ahh, life's so sweet, ain't it? The moral:

8-hours-chock-full-of-sleep employees rock the world, like it ain't no thang but a chicken wing on a string.

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Posted on September 26

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