Nearly a third of people identify as night owls, notes the human resources association SHRM. Night owls are more alert, engaged and effective in the evening.

Understanding and embracing the cyclic patterns of night owls can help these employees and your organization.

Different natural rhythms

During a 24-hour day, humans typically sleep for about eight hours and stay awake for 16. However, the timing of those sleep-wake cycles varies by person. This creates differences in when individuals are more focused and energetic.

An employee’s internal clock is largely genetic, reports Inc. magazine. It’s not that night owls simply prefer to stay up late. That’s the time when their bodies are naturally more alert.

Mutually beneficial

Understanding sleep-wake patterns allows your employees to embrace the natural rhythm of their day. Adhering to this cycle can reduce stress, improve sleep and lead to better overall health. Your company also benefits from improved employee performance.

The business magazine Fast Company reports that employees who work nonlinear days — those with work periods aligned to their particular preferences and needs rather than a standard 9-to-5 job clock — report higher levels of focus, productivity, creativity, memory and mood.

Since night owls are most productive in the evening, they might want to work the bulk of their hours later in the day. Some might prefer working from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and then again from 7 to 11 p.m. Others might want to work a traditional eight-hour schedule but start later — for example, from 2 to 10 p.m.

Allowing employees to work at their preferred times can benefit the organization beyond improved productivity and decision-making. It can also:

  • Increase diversity of thought and ways of working
  • Provide employees with autonomy and flexibility, which are two of the most desired benefits
  • Improve attraction and retention rates
  • Enhance company culture with an emphasis on well-being and employee appreciation

Ways to help night owls

The following strategies can help you embrace employees who do their best work later in the day.

Be flexible. As long as it aligns with your business goals, let employees set their schedules. For example, you can allow employees to start later in the day, split their days into chunks or work remotely according to their preferred schedules. You can embrace organizational flexibility by asking job candidates about their preferred work hours during the hiring process. You can also encourage managers to help their employees find optimal work times.

Encourage time blocks. Creating blocks of time for uninterrupted work is especially important when scheduling flexibility isn’t an option. If night owls are conforming to a typical 9-to-5 workday, they will benefit from focusing on their most important assignments later in the day. Allowing employees to carve out time blocks provides the space they need for deep focus. For example, blocking out 3 to 5 p.m. each day limits afternoon meetings and interruptions that interfere with their workflow and productivity.

Focus on output. Organizations with scheduling flexibility focus less on work hours and more on output, notes Fast Company. Output-based workplaces must be clear about expectations. You may not always be able to accommodate different hours. A client may need help in the morning or an urgent deadline may require everyone to pitch in at a specific time. Most often, however, it’s the output that matters. Managers can provide projects and deadlines, and then allow employees to set their schedules accordingly.

Stay connected. Even when employees work different hours, there’s usually a time when most or all are active. Schedule regular team meetings during these times to strengthen connections. And ask managers to check in with individual employees at least biweekly. Regular points of contact improve collaboration, empathy, communication and team relationships. When working hours don’t overlap, use technology such as messaging platforms and file management systems that track changes. These options improve collaboration and keep coworkers connected regardless of their hours.

Embracing differences

Encouraging your employees to work when they perform their best can create a two-way path for trust and commitment.

For more ideas on workplace flexibility and employee communications, talk with your benefits adviser. They can help you examine flexible work options and technologies that help your employees make the most of their workday — or worknight.