How biorhythms impact workplace safety and teamwork

Biorhythms should be considered as teams of employees are formed in the workplace, says Dr Stefan Volk

How biorhythms impact workplace safety and teamwork
rhythms that determine whether individuals are “day or night people” should be considered as teams of employees are formed in the workplace, according to senior lecturer, Dr Stefan Volk of the University of Sydney Business School.

Circadian rhythms govern periods of activity and of rest including times of mental and physical energy peaks and troughs.

Researchers say that people vary significantly in these physiological energy levels during the day.

“The human body follows a 24 hour biological clock that determines, for example, wake sleep patterns,” said Dr Volk.

“This biological pattern also determines when we are highly attentive and have our mental performance peaks and when we are exhausted and tired.

“Our research focused on how the circadian rhythms of different team members affect the performance of that team and the consequences for team performance when people have different daily performance cycles.”

Dr Volk’s research found that teams working on highly interdependent tasks “such as surgical teams conducting a complex operation, sports teams, orchestras, emergency responders, and other so-called action teams”, need to include people who are on the same circadian cycle and reach their peak performance at the same time.

Moreover, the research also found that teams that undertake, what Dr Volk described as sustained attention tasks require members that peak at different times to ensure that there is always someone who is at their best.

“For example, sustained attention is necessary for pilots on long-haul flights, nurses caring for patients in long shifts, and police surveillance,” said Dr Volk.

“For these types of tasks you don’t need people who are at peak performance at the same time, but rather people with peaks distributed over time so that there is always somebody who is attentive and can detect a critical incident.”

Dr Volk’s research at the intersection of the management, biological, and medical sciences is aimed at understanding how the human body and mind interact in work settings in an effort to improve the performance, productivity and wellbeing of employees.

Dr Volk said he is particularly interested in investigating the way that workers can make best use of their mental and physical capacities by actively managing their bodily energy resources throughout the working day.

“By studying what is known from the medical and biological sciences about the functioning of the human body, I believe we can improve employees’ performance in a myriad of ways, including, but not limited to, workplace safety and effective team work,” Dr Volk said.

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