May 20, 2015 by

This article appears in the Summer 2015 edition of B2B.

Which of the following is significantly correlated with ethics?

Chocolate

Vegetables

Caffeine

All of the Above

In a recent survey, most people responded “all of the above.” I picked “chocolate” because I think chocolate is associated with everything that is worthwhile in life.

But, bizarre as it may sound, the answer is….. caffeine.

Why?

The Huffington Post reports that professors at the University of Washington, the University of Arizona, and the University of North Carolina have identified what we can call the Deprivation BlindSpot. The more sleep deprived, the more likely we are to be blinded by the desire for quick solutions, the need to fit in, and other psychological tendencies that lead to unethical decisions.

“When you’re sleep-deprived at work, it’s much easier to simply go along with unethical suggestions from your boss because resistance takes effort and you’re already worn down,” says David Welsh, an organizational behavior professor at the University of Washington. “However, we found that caffeine can give sleep-deprived individuals the extra energy needed to resist unethical behavior.” (Note: You might think so, but Welsh’s study was not funded by Starbucks.)

If there is any truth to the claim that caffeine can help us resist unethical behavior, it’s worth implementing a workplace policy that provides free coffee and other caffeinated beverages to all employees.

And it’s reasonable that other practices can also protect us from the Deprivation BlindSpot. First, let’s make sure we take breaks. No more working straight through the day, getting up only once or twice, and eating lunch at the desk.

Second, managers and supervisors can walk around, talk to employees, watch their body language, and ask questions. This practice can help us identify each other’s deprivations. It also helps create a culture of care and respect.

Third, schedule decision-making meetings and high-pressure tasks at the beginning of the day, when even the most exhausted employees have their best burst of energy.

Finally, napping is not just for kindergarten. Employers can promote napping. Google and other tech companies are known for it. Progressive companies are building nap pods and separate rooms to invite employees to nap. As long as employees perform, they can take as many naps as they want.

In what ways do you see yourself or your employees being tired at work? Have you witnessed workers making not-so-great-choices because they’re tired? What do you do to help yourself and them overcome the Deprivation BlindSpot?