Dealing with 9-to-5 culture as an evening person

Some people wake up early on their own, immediately feel energized and start the day productively. But if you’ve clicked on this article, you probably don’t belong to that group. Maybe getting up every day is a battle with the alarm clock (or alarm clocks) and it takes a while to feel like a human again instead of a zombie.

Poseritis according to some morning people, but that is not necessarily true, says Els van der Helm. As a sleep neuroscientist, she assists organizations and leaders in the areas of sleep, performance and health. ‘There are actually morning and evening people, and this is largely genetically determined.’

Influence on your work performance

Being an evening person in a society designed for morning people is not only annoying, it also affects your work performance, explains the sleep expert. Sleep deprived workers are less able to concentrate, less creative and less able to find solutions to problems. Their working memory also deteriorates, making it harder to absorb new information and remember things from a few days ago.

Lack of sleep also affects your mental well-being. Those who are tired feel more unstable, are less empathetic and trust others less well. Van der Helm: The management style of ‘leaders’ is becoming more negative. Research also shows that if leaders sleep less, the people in their team are less motivated.’

to become a morning person

You can affect your rhythm a little bit so the early encounter feels a little less like torture. Van der Helm advises evening people to take in strong light as soon as possible in the morning and preferably go outside. In the evening you should avoid light as much as possible. It can also be smart to eat earlier and not meet friends until late.

Van der Helm: ‘Actually, the trick is to pretend you’re a morning person in terms of rhythm. But you can’t change your biological clock. Ideally, you stay in your evening rhythm and adjust your life accordingly.’

Flexible working hours

At Sky Internet Marketing, a company with seven employees, different sleep rhythms are taken into account. Working hours are flexible. ‘It started because I employed people with a different rhythm,’ says founder Nils van der Knaap.

Most people start their working day somewhere between nine and ten, but one Van der Knaap employee is truly a night owl and often starts at four in the afternoon. “I knew that before I hired him, and I’m fine with that. What matters is that he does his job well, and this way he works much more productively than if I forced him to come in the morning.’

Schedule meetings

What prevents many employers from using flexible working hours is that it is sometimes inconvenient in practice, but Nils van der Knaap immediately rejects that objection. ‘We have a system where we can see exactly who is working and when. If we have a meeting where both the real morning people and the employee who prefers to work in the evening must be present, we ask if he can start an hour earlier. But that doesn’t happen often.’

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Mel van Lieshout, country manager at Shopify, an international company in software for webshops, also says that it works well in practice if everyone can determine their own working hours. ‘If you work with good online tools, it’s fine to work asynchronously (not at the same time, ed.) In those systems, we can see exactly who is working with what, and we can also access those files immediately. In order to plan meetings, it is important that everyone has their calendar updated, also because we work with people in other time zones.’

Van Lieshout himself would not want to work any other way. ‘I had a standard rhythm with a previous employer. I didn’t think it could be any different. But now that I can decide for myself when I work, I started to think carefully about what suits me best. I’m most creative myself at the end of the day, so I prefer to start the day calmly by working out first and crawling behind my desk around 10. This works so much better for me. I enjoy my work more, I am more productive and creative. At Shopify, we also don’t have meetings on Wednesdays, so we can focus entirely on our work instead of having meetings in between. The only thing that remains a challenge is a good work-life balance.’

Do we as a society pay too little attention to night people? In this episode of the Less Working Podcast, ‘night owl’ Lobke talks about his work routine, and sleep expert Winni Hofman joins us to explain our biological clock and why it is so difficult to adjust it.

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