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November 29, 2022

Plan Your Day Around Your Internal Ethics Clock

I've been seeing these stories pop up about how night owls are more ethical at night, and knowing that most of us put in our time during the day despite the fact that we'd rather work third shift, thought this might be an item worth discussing.

Fast Company explains the research:

Whether you are a morning person or a night owl might dictate what time of day you should make your ethics-testing decisions.

It turns out the time of day you feel least productive and alert is also when you’re most likely to lie. A new study by Christopher M. Barnes of the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, Brian Gunia of Johns Hopkins University’s Carey Business School, and Sunita Sah of Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, shows morning people become more unethical at night, while night owls are more unethical during the day.

The full report will be published in Psychological Science later this year, but the researchers posted their findings in a Harvard Business Review blog post.

Previous research found that our morality tends to erode as the day wears on, which is yet another reason you shouldn't be working so many hours in a day when ethics are at stake (tell that to your partners and report back on what they say, please).

Researchers suggest that managers take this into consideration when assigning time-sensitive tasks to their grunts at certain times of the day:

The important organizational takeaway from these findings is that individual may be more likely to act unethically when they are “mismatched” –that is, making a decision at the wrong time of day for their own chronotype. Managers should try to learn the chronotype (lark, owl, or in between) of their subordinates and make sure to respect it when deciding how to structure their work. Managers who ask a lark to make ethics-testing decisions at night, or an owl to make such decisions in the morning, run the risk of encouraging rather than discouraging unethical behavior.

Is it really that serious, though? Was Scott London a night owl who wouldn't have given inside information to his golf buddy on the green if they'd been playing in the middle of the night?

Perhaps the next time a massive fraud is uncovered, the perps will blame their natural circadian rhythm for the lapse in good judgment. Yeah, that sounds about right.

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