WTF #19: Sleeping on the Job

WTF #19: Sleeping on the Job

If a scene like the one to the left were to present itself at your office, a few things might cross your mind. Your fellow co-worker is a lazy bum. Or perhaps he pulled an all-nighter last night. Or maybe he’s dead. But this scene is one that is quite common here in China. Literally, sleeping on the job, right in front (and sometimes on top) of one’s laptop is quite the norm. Not the whole day, mind you, but for about half an hour’s worth after lunch. Some schools here even impose a mandatory nap time after the lunch break. I wouldn’t mind taking a little nap myself, except decades of cultural training in Canada has left me incapable of sleeping at the office. First, I’m too self conscious. Second, I don’t have that internal clock well trained enough to wake myself up after 30 minutes. I may end up sleeping the entire afternoon away and drooling on my keyboard, which in turn, results in sparks and fires from between the keys that leads to the eventual destruction of the planet.

And I really wouldn’t want to destroy the planet. I think I’ll just have a latte and move on.

However, if you’re interested in destroying the planet, here are 9 Reasons Why You Should Nap at Work.

What The Flux is a semi-regular feature on that follows the follies and jollies of an engineer in industry, yours truly.


Sleeping at the office creeps me out, but I admit that I go home every day at lunch in part so that I can take a nap. If I don’t, I’m useless all afternoon. (There’ve been studies showing that the need to nap is biologically driven and that it’s a good idea to have a short 20ish minute nap to improve concentration and productivity…so that’s my story and I’m sticking with it.)

You did clarify one thing for me, though. I had a Chinese officemate who would take a nap every day after lunch. Like you, I’m too self-conscious (and uncomfortable) to nap at work. But he had a reclining lawn chair that he’d open up in his cube and nap every day after lunch. Was so jealous of him…but also surprised at how casual he was about it. I guess if that’s the norm, one not worry too much.

When I was a co-op student, I used to take naps in the back of my car in the parking lot. I wasn’t tired from working, but from late night gaming. Still, a short 20-30 minute nap did wonders for my efficiency in the afternoon.

When I was in Korea, this was also the norm. Of course the 14 hour work days seemed to necessitate it (no comment on whether the 14 hour day was itself a necessity…). Though there may have been a bit more shame involved, though. I recall more than once hearing snores coming from the (floor-to-ceiling) stalls in the restroom…

I remember my Dad being flabbergasted when he was sent down to Mexico City (in the 1970s) and found that all work stopped after lunch, for siesta! But they would sleep for a couple of hours, and then be lazy for the rest of the day. Some would just go home at lunchtime, not to return.

I worked at a small company that was founded by a Korean national who liked to hire recently immigrated Koreans. Many of them took undo advantage of his generosity and the rest of us had to cover for them. But one of his “projects” in particular had no qualms about sleeping for several hours on the sofa in our only break room – in plain sight of everybody, including customers. She didn’t understand that she was embarrassing the company, so they moved the couch to the lady’s restroom. So she slept in there until there were too many complaints (her snores really echoed in there). So they removed the couch altogether and she resorted to sleeping at her desk. Eventually the owner could not justify her behavior anymore and fired her, but she left still unsure about what she’d done wrong.

More companies are actually following suit to this kind of working environment, providing breaks in between working hours for their employees to take a “power nap”. It actually helps a lot in refreshing the mind.

Back in the early 1980’s, I had a job at the Audiology department of the State Hospital of Norway. As one of the engineers there, our job included maintenance of the measuring equipment, such as audiometers. There were two main classes of these: the familiar ones with earphones and the beeping sounds at various carefully calibrated frequencies and sound pressure levels where the patient can indicate whether he hears something. Then there was the Bekesy audiometer, a kind of automated device with motors and a plotter, to be controlled by a push-button, and finally some devices such as the automatic audiometers that were useable on unconscious patients, the so-called un-cooperative measuring methods.

The standard operating procedure, as it were, was that whoever had fixed something on the equipment was the one to be used as a test subject to verify that it was working oke.

So one day, I had to re-wire one of the input connectors on the ERA (Electro-Response Audiometer), one of the un-cooperative measurement systems; and of course I would then take the place of the patient. This entailed lying down on the bench, with earphones, then listening to clicks (sounded like buzzing) at 100 dB SPL, then at 90 dB SPL and so on down — a couple thousand of these would serve, through correlation, to generate a measurable brain wave response, that would be plotted on the ERA.

And I fell asleep during that procedure, as was expected.

This is the only time I’ve slept at work far as I can remember.

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