Should your boss let you sleep on the job? It's not as crazy as its sounds as more evidence emerges on health and productivity benefits from workplace napping.
I'm not suggesting widespread napping at work. Customer-facing staff, emergency services workers and others who perform vital tasks can't make the world wait while they have a quick early-afternoon sleep.
Nor am I suggesting companies foot the bill for employees who nap. Employees would have to extend their shift or make up the lost work time at home. Also, too much napping is counterproductive if it eats into normal sleep. We're talking 15 to 30 minutes tops for most naps, often just after lunch.
But if a quick nap is feasible and it makes employees happier, healthier and more productive, then why not? Surely, it's just another form of workplace flexibility where companies give employees autonomy to tailor conditions to maximise their output.
Some European and South American countries have long had a siesta culture where workers nap. The practice, seemingly lazy, makes sense in warmer climates.
Google has for years let staff nap at work and even has high-tech nap pods, which allow staff to recline in privacy. Other large and small US companies, often in the tech industry, have nap rooms.
Flinders University researchers have found those who nap regularly feel more alert and overseas studies have confirmed the benefits of napping. It's a bit like having a coffee without the caffeine side effects. Done well, a power nap can energise people, lift their mood and provide other health benefits.
Yes, there are complications with workplace napping. It would require cultural change in most organisations and possibly different work hours in some. Also, nap rooms overseas have attracted controversy when used by companies that insist on crazy work hours.
Their nap room is a nasty tool to ease fatigue in overworked employees. The last thing we want is staff spending more time at work because they can work AND sleep there.
Used sensibly, workplace napping is beneficial. If someone is struggling to stay awake, why pretend to be alert and productive? Admit you need a nap and that your afternoon's output will be much higher if you have one.
I thought about workplace napping after a recent 2pm meeting. Some attendees looked half asleep – hot, humid weather and a carbohydrate-heavy lunch, I'm guessing. A nap might have made a big difference to their demeanour and the meeting's output.
Many workers can benefit from a workplace nap. Sleep-deprived young parents, for example, who struggle to maintain productivity during their shift. Or those who have poor sleep patterns or do their best work in the morning or late at night.
No company can afford workplace zombies in the early afternoon.
A culture of napping might reduce workplace accidents. How many incidents involve sleepy workers and how much productivity is lost when the worker's circadian rhythm is not in sync with their shift and job requirements? They work when they should be asleep.
Companies need not go overboard with napping. They don't need fancy nap pods, special nap room or other costly facilities. Just allowing employees who desperately need a nap to have one, in a space that helps napping, would be an enough for many.
A longer lunch break that provides time for staff to eat and have a quick nap is a simple way to offer this practice to staff who need it. Avoiding early-afternoon meetings on hot days might also help.
I suspect more Australian companies will consider the benefits of napping in coming years. As temperatures rise, many workers will feel groggy in the early afternoon. I know my afternoon productivity suffered after a recent Melbourne heatwave. Napping in extreme temperatures, when a good night's sleep is hard to achieve, is smart.
Noisier, congested cities and growing use of social media at night are other factors. Workers who feel they are connected 24/7 to their job might find a quick nap is an antidote to their busy lifestyle and disturbed sleep – and a natural mood enhancer.
Perhaps the biggest change will come as more companies focus on employee outputs rather than time spent at work. Expecting all staff to perform at their best during a set shift, even though people have different body clocks, is unrealistic.
No company can afford workplace zombies in the early afternoon. Or staff wasting time each day as they nip out to get a coffee to help stay awake. Telling staff to sleep on the job – even insisting on it, in some cases – might reverse sagging afternoon productivity.
Tony Featherstone writes on Personal Finance specialising in Superannuation & SMSFs, Specialist Investments.