Among the many things I read this weekend, the one that was most interesting to me involved the discovery that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella gets eight hours of sleep and wakes up at 7 a.m. The interview is embedded above but the brief question and answer (no follow up) happens in the first 30 seconds of the clip.
I have met Nadella several times and like him quite a bit. Now I admire him. Not only is this policy smart it’s highly utilitarian. Sleep is essential for both creativity and productivity. (Creativity is less valued in our work culture than productivity but is at least as important for executives, product managers and entrepreneurs.) More and more research validates and underscores the importance of sleep across the board.
Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer famously sleeps six hours a night (but says she needs only four) and reportedly convinced her husband to sleep less in order to become more productive. According to a 2014 profile in Vanity Fair, “Mayer says that she needs only four hours of sleep a night and that she pulled 250 all-nighters in her first five years at Google.”
I like Mayer very much and think she’s doing a good job at Yahoo under challenging circumstances. However, I hope she doesn’t expect her team or others at Yahoo to live up to sleep (or lack of sleep) standards.
Silicon Valley and the broader tech industry have a paradoxical attitude toward work. On the one hand there’s the “work is fun” culture that sees startups as an extension of college dorm life or a kind of adult playpen. But there’s equally a workaholic undercurrent that may not look like workaholism because it’s the culture and so pervasive.
It’s a cliche to say this but it bears repeating: technology has extended the workday and the capacity for work. That allows employees to have flexibility but creates new expectations about being available. I’m routinely working and answering email over the weekend and so are most of the people I know. Indeed, the weekend is often the time when the phone’s not ringing and you can get some actual work done.
A recent survey has found a gap between employer and employee perceptions of work-life balance. According to the survey of more than 1,000 professionals (including HR professionals), “67 percent of HR professionals believe their employees have a decent work-life balance. However, 45 percent of surveyed employees (and 35 percent of job seekers) do not see it that way.”
Different generations of workers had different responses (Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials). But in the aggregate less than half of the surveyed employees believed they had work-life balance.
According to 2013 Gallup survey, roughly 70% of US workers were “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” in their work. The polling firm estimated “that actively disengaged employees cost the US $450 billion to $550 billion in lost productivity per year.”
While many jobs are unsatisfying, at least some of this comes back to sleep and not getting enough of it. If a middle or lower-level employee at Microsoft had been interviewed and made Nadella’s statement — “I sleep eight hours and wake up at 7 am” — most people in the tech industry would see the person as a “slacker” or “not fully committed.”
There’s actually diminishing returns from working too much. The quality of work suffers. As a spate of recent books about creativity have argued, people need “down time” to process information and to generate new, and especially creative, ideas.
Nadella may just be responding to his own bodily and sleep needs or he may be following a kind of “productivity best practices” model that recommends more sleep. Either way his “admission” above is both courageous and even radical in a certain way.
What’s your view?