Everyone knows that bosses can be as sweet as Splenda one day and a horror movie monster the next. Listen: Heed your Zen cubicle mate's advice and don't take it personally. As you've long suspected, your boss' dour mood may be a direct result of what did--or didn't--happen in their bedroom last night. I'm talking about sleep, of course! Supervisors who don't get a good night's rest are more likely to be nasty to their employees, new research shows.
For a study that will be published in the Academy of Management Journal, researchers asked 88 supervisors in Italy to keep sleep diaries for two weeks. They noted when they went to bed, how long it took for them to fall asleep, and what time they woke up. On the days when supervisors slept poorly, their employees tended to report their bosses were more abusive—doing things like acting rudely, yelling at team members, or embarrassing them in front of other coworkers.
Christopher Barnes, one of the researchers behind the study and a professor of management at the University of Washington Foster School of Business, says people have a limited ability to exert self-control that they deplete throughout the day and recover when they sleep. "If you're not getting the sleep you need, it's hard to override temptations to behave like a jerk when things aren't going well," Barnes says.
It isn't that surprising that sleepiness leads to crankiness. What's noteworthy is that tired bosses aren't just out of it, they're abusive, and that has a ripple effect on the company: On groggy boss days, most employees didn't just grin and bear the bullying. When bosses reported not getting a good night's sleep, their subordinates tended to withdraw from work, disagreeing more often with statements like "Today, I was immersed in my work."
While some companies regularly dole out money to train their managers to become better supervisors, Barnes believes leadership retreats and one-on-one coaching may be all for naught if supervisors simply aren't getting the sleep they need. "Normally, we think about developing leaders over time through high profile assignments and rotations through different positions. That might be true to some degree, but it's also true that just sleep can have an effect on a leader," Barnes says.
So bosses should manage their sleep better. But what should subordinates do? I asked Barnes if he had any survival advice for underlings with tired managers.
"I always tell my MBA students that it's hard to manage upwards ... and a lot of leaders are probably not going to be receptive to you saying, 'You're being a jerk right now,'" he says. (Fair enough.) He suggests subordinates give their boss some space if they suspect their manager's slumber was far from peaceful. "It's not going to solve the problem, but we all do know that bosses will be crankier on some days than others," Barnes says.