Helping Employees through the Afternoon Slump

Employee productivity is not about keeping them in the office. It is about the hours in the office resulting in good quality work. For HR professionals looking at staff from this perspective, one of the greatest challenges is managing the afternoon slump.

The very first step is understanding that the afternoon slump is biologically based and not a matter of malingering or poor attitudes. In the last decade, research has clearly and consistently pointed to decreased alertness and cognition in the afternoon, stemming from programmed circadian rhythms.

While it is not possible to eliminate these mental swings, it is possible to develop countermeasures. Here are some ideas;

  • Training and awareness: Educating staff in this issue may result in improved personal habits on their part, such as better sleep hygiene or rearranging when they do their most challenging work.
  • Cafeteria choices: If organizations offer on-site cafeteria, working with the head chef may result in menus that are less mind-numbing. Using differential pricing may nudge employees to better choices. Be aware that costs may increase as a result.
  • Increase physical activity: Organizing mild afternoon walks or providing sit/stand workstations may be enough to clear the mind.
  • Meeting ban: Early afternoon meetings are the most mind-numbing and are the worst possible setting in which to provide information, gather input, or develop consensus.
  • Napping program: Developing a high-quality napping program is probably the most effective countermeasure to the afternoon slump. It should be based on good science, with specific guidelines. Trading half an hour of an employee sleeping for several hours of good output is simply a win.

Addressing the afternoon slump is a fairly straight-forward thing technically. The challenge for the HR professional will be guiding the leaders of the organization in understanding that the problem is unavoidable and is hitting the bottom line. The change management needed may be the biggest challenge. Please contact us if you would like help in developing an approach to the afternoon slump for your organization.

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