Springing Forward at Work

Regardless of their views on the necessity of daylight saving time—which starts Sunday for many in the United States and Canada—employers should pay attention to how springing forward (and falling back) affects their workers, experts say.

Setting the clock an hour ahead in the spring and an hour back in the fall disrupts sleep schedules for about a week after the official switch. What’s the big deal with an hour of sleep? “That quick change in our sleep schedule is difficult for our bodies because they’re not set up to change that quickly,” said Claire Caruso, Ph.D., a research health scientist at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

It can be detrimental to performance for workers who haven’t gotten enough sleep, she added. Research shows that the spring time change, in particular, can lead to mood disruptions and is associated with increased frequency of heart issues and car accidents.

The spring time change is usually more difficult for night owls and people who have early morning start times, Caruso said. Conversely, the fall time change can be tougher on early birds who bolt out of bed in the morning and turn in earlier at night. Both time changes can be especially disruptive for working parents of young children.

What can employers do to minimize the impact of time changes? Caruso offers the following suggestions.

-Remind workers of the health and safety risks. “It’s good to warn people that they may have more difficulties the day of the time change and during that week because it takes a while to get adjusted to the new times for waking and sleeping,” she said.

-Avoid giving workers overly taxing physical or mental tasks during the first week, while they get used to the change.

-Be flexible. If possible, adjust work start times during the first week while employees get used to the new schedule.

-Be understanding. Employees might be fatigued, grouchy or more impatient than usual.

-Remind workers to be vigilant when driving, whether it’s because of sleepy drivers on the road in the spring or darker drive times in the fall.

There may be a few more yawns in the workplace next week, but by showing flexibility and understanding, employers can help workers spring forward with fewer stumbles.

Kathy Bergstrom, CEBS
Senior Editor, Publications at the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans


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