Understanding Time Preference as a Diversity Issue


“Early to bed and early to rise will make a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” –Benjamin Franklin

“The early bird catches the worm.” –Anonymous

Quotes like these infer that if you are a night owl instead of an early bird, you will be unhealthy, poor, stupid, undisciplined and lazy. Society has come to place more value on being early to bed and early to rise than late to bed and late to rise.

Carolyn Schur, sleep and fatigue specialist and author of Birds of a Different Feather – Early Birds and Night Owls Talk about their Characteristic Behaviors, believes that up to 25% of us may be night owls, with a slightly smaller percentage early birds, and the remaining 60% being intermediates. (Intermediates favour a bedtime between 11 p.m. and midnight and awake between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m.).

Many people think that time preference, or chronotype, is something a person could change if they wanted to. But trying to become an early bird when you are a night owl is like writing with your right hand when you are left handed. Certainly you can force yourself to do it, but you will be less productive and it will feel uncomfortable and unnatural. This is because internally we are controlled by a master clock which controls sleep and wakefulness, body temperature and metabolic rate. When our normal daily body temperature is at its lowest, we are the most inclined towards sleep. When our normal daily body temperature is at its highest, we are the most alert. Exactly when these changes happen determines whether we will be an early bird (who loves to leap out of bed at 6 a.m. with vim and vigor) or a night owl (who loves to stay in bed until noon and then work into the wee hours).

It is not fun being a night owl in an early bird world. We see our society’s opinion of night owls and early birds in the language we use every day:  staying in bed until mid-morning is referred to as “sleeping in” and early birds get up “bright and early” and are “set for the day”. Night owls may be teased by colleagues regarding their schedules or socially pressured to be cheerful first thing when they still feel tired and half asleep. This value ridden perspective of time creates low self-esteem and inhibits night owl career success.

What are the advantages of leaders understanding “chronotype” or time diversity?

  1. Better work shift scheduling. According to Statistics Canada, up to 30% of workers in Canada are involved in non-traditional schedules. Non traditional work schedules are defined as working other than 9-5, Monday to Friday, 35 to 40 hours a week. It can include extended hours, rotating shifts and permanent night or evening shifts. In a world that demands a 24 hour lifestyle, it is often the early birds who have the most challenges in adjusting to shift work and staying alert at night. As the workplace changes and the demand for longer days, extended days, shift work and working at night increase; early birds will find it more difficult to cope.
  2. Maximizing 100% time. It is important to schedule meetings that demand high mental acuity or creativity in everyone’s best time zone. Core meeting time is best between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
  3. Respect that time preference is not preferential, but biological. By realizing that chronotype is just one more way we are different, we can understand this diversity issue.

Once we understand this layer of diversity, we can use the knowledge to make better schedules and job placements that maximize individual and team success. By knowing who we are and who we work with, we can avoid jumping to value-driven stereotypes and work towards a more effective workplace.


For more information on how Jeanne Martinson can help you attract, retain and engage your ideal workforce, see our website at www.martrain.org,

Further Resources!

Do you want to know more about the early bird/night owl issue? Do your workplace schedules create problems? Contact Carolyn Schur at www.nightowlnet.com or 1-866-975-1165.

Check out our website www.martrain.org for audio clips on early bird/night owl differences from a Toronto radio interview. Link is on home page.

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By Carolyn Schur |

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