The Business Of Napping
The Japanese word ‘Tsundoku’ means to acquire reading material but to let it pile up in our house without reading it. I think we can all relate to that. Well, those of us who read. Um, and those of us with houses. OK, so probably a sadly decreasing number of people can relate to Tsundoku but we can probably at least grasp the concept. You’re reading this article so at least there’s hope.
The Japanese word ‘Karoshi’ loosely translates as working yourself to death. Maybe we in this country cannot relate directly to that, nor the cultural and institutional forces that drive or influence people to over-commit to their job to such an extreme extent. That said, there are plenty of technical specialists, professionals and self-employed folk who don’t see their job as a job. Perhaps if they see it as a calling or a craft or a ticket out, they might put in the level of energy, time and sacrifice that edges them eerily closer to a Kiwi Karoshi. (Kiwishi?) Maybe we don’t work ourselves to death because social constraints dictate that we can’t leave the office until the sun is down and the boss goes first. Maybe we skip breaks, forget to blink for hours on end and drive home into a tree, or self-medicate with the drink or drug de jour then drive into a tree. I think we have more trees than Japan.
I can’t fault firms with enough resources to hire in masseuses for their staff. Employers know they’re supposed to be ruthlessly stringent on health and safety risks, not just the physical ones. They know about bullying, and #metoo, and psychologically safe workplace environments. I’ve even been given a tour of workplaces where staff are given barista training to run the space-age coffee machines at their disposal, and other workplaces where they have a multi-storey playground slide at the centre of their building. I am knocking none of these things. Smarter people than me have made informed choices in conjunction with other smart people.
I have yet to run into a standard workplace where napping is cool though. Yes, fire stations and other first responder locations can have living quarters with beds. Yes, young doctors in public hospitals working seventy-two hour days grab twenty winks in a cot in the supply cupboard. (I’ve not seen ‘Shortland Street’ for ages, have never watched ‘Grey’s Anatomy’, and I gave up before ‘E.R.’ came to its presumably heart-wrenching conclusion but I’m pretty sure they were not just snoozing in those supply cupboards, right? If I was the hospital administrator in charge of those supply cupboards, the first thing I’d be supplying would have been locks for the supply cupboards). I’m not talking about those jobs and those sleeps. I’m talking about bakers, panelbeaters, lawyers and advertising copywriters.
I have seen significant companies that are profit-focused provide a meditation suite for their people. I’m not saying meditation and napping are the same thing but to the untrained observer, it’s semantics. You need a quite space, perhaps with dimmable lighting to be undisturbed for twenty or so minutes. I’ve never seen anyone in real life recreate George from Seinfeld’s sleeping space beneath his desk at the offices of the New York Yankees but I have seen people asleep under a conference room table – a conference room that the system said was booked out but I figured was in error as I could clearly see it was unoccupied. And, if you know me, you know that I’m a real kick-both-legs out-strongly-when-sitting-at-a-table kind of guy. I have also seen bakery assistants asleep on piles of flour sacks. They are super comfortable, and that sugary baking smell is amaaazingly relaxing.
So rather than fight nature, let’s work with it. Your circadian rhythm is basically a 24-hour internal clock that is running in the background of your brain and cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals. We have two peaks and two troughs of alertness per day. One trough is mid-afternoon. Some cultures literally have siesta, then work into the cooler evening. An acceptable solution to a problem but not in anglo-colonial-protestant-work-ethic cultures (from the people that brought you the game of cricket.)
I’m not suggesting we compel people to nap. Places of work are not childcare facilities, unless you work in a childcare facility. We can choose to judge people on their skills, collaboration and results, not on how many hours they work nor where and when they work them. Getting back to Japan, they have Kapusero Hoteru (Capsule Hotels) that have rooms only the size of a bed known as pods. An American company has developed a $13000 chair that induces and allows napping with an effective duration of thirteen to twenty minutes. It has an orb that I choose to call the cone of silence. Smarter people than me are once again on the job… when they’re awake.