Catching In-Office "Zs" Out of Vogue

October 24, 2003 ( - It's not cool anymore to catch a few "Z's" at the office.

Nap-friendly employers who permit office snoozes by shift workers dropped to 21% in 2003 from 44% last year and 48% in 2001, according to an ongoing survey by Circadian Technologies, Lexington, Massachusetts firm quoted by the Wall Street Journal.

The study of 532 employers also found that more – 52% compared with 38% in 2002 – are punishing workers who catch a few winks by reprimanding or suspending them, sometimes even when they’re on a break.

One consultant told the Journal that employers are afraid people may complain if they see workers with heads on their desks or hear snoring from behind closed doors. Salaried workers are also seeing their employers back off policies that encourage napping, says Kevin Sheridan of HR Solutions, a Chicago management-consulting firm. Snoozing in the office just “doesn’t look good” to customers or co-workers, he told the Journal. With layoffs rife, “the last thing you want is to be viewed as the slacker in the naproom.”

Ironically, this apparent crackdown on workplace slumber comes despite a growing agreement among scientists and lawmakers that a nap at work can be a good thing. A 2002 study at Harvard University showed a midday nap can sharply improve performance on mental tasks. Also, state lawmakers are cracking down on sleepyhead drivers, suggesting employers might be held liable for demanding heavy overtime without taking steps to combat worker fatigue. New Jersey last summer passed Maggie’s Law, making drowsy driving a crime. New York lawmakers are considering a similar measure.

But, regardless of the boss’ s reaction, people are finding ways to sleep at work, according to the Journal’s recitation of office nap tales:

  • A Pennsylvania advertising executive had fallen asleep at her desk, her face propped in her hands, when she heard her boss’s voice at her side. Before raising her head, she murmured a quick, “Amen,” turned to greet him – and escaped a reprimand.
  • A California software programmer naps under her desk while clutching a screwdriver. Then if someone discovers her, she emerges brandishing the tool and muttering, “That damn desk drawer went off-track again.”
  • A San Francisco stock-and-options trader finds that a toilet stall is a perfect naproom. He sits on the closed seat, props his head on his hands and his elbows on his knees and – braced in a stable triangle – dozes for several minutes.