Healthy Leaders, Healthy Workers: Examining the Relationship between Sleep and Work

Joelena Leader

Dr. Erica Carleton is an Assistant Professor of Human Resources and Organizational Behaviour whose primary research focus is on leadership and intersecting interests in employee health and well-being, sleep, and gender. Carleton and colleague Dr. Megan Walsh recently won a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Insight Development Grant to address stereotype threat for women in leadership and the role of mindfulness.
Her passion for understanding leadership behaviors and examining what predicts high and low quality leadership drives her work in this area. Her interest in employee health and well-being has led her to investigate the non-work antecedents of employee well-being, especially different physiological and psychological predictors of well-being, such as sleep.

The broader research questions she asks include, “How do we keep workers healthy? How do we ensure that people go to work healthy, and stay healthy while at work?” Carleton explains, “Where my research fits, is on the crux of understanding what do we do outside of work and how it impacts us when we are at work. That includes sleep, but it also includes exercise, mindfulness, anything outside of our jobs.” She commented, “As researchers in Organizational Behaviour, we tend to focus on work and what happens at work, however, there are many other factors that have an impact on our work.” This research is important because “when people are healthy and happy they are better workers,” Carleton commented. 

An example she shared is the relationship between sleep and work. Carleton describes how work impacts sleep when we bring our work stress home with us and as a result, we have trouble falling asleep because we are thinking about work or answering work emails late at night. Interestingly, Carleton found that “on the flip-side, sleep impacts how we actually view our work stress. When we are tired, we view our work as more demanding and those demands seem harder to overcome.”

The relationship between sleep and work is particularly significant when examining leadership behaviours. Carleton explains how “leaders are integral to the running of organizations; they matter in terms of the well-being of their employees, and understanding a leaders own well-being and how they are impacted by sleep is important. It is not just about how leaders’ impact their employees, but it is also about understanding what makes leaders act in certain ways.”

Leadership behaviours can fall into a number of different types. Carleton describes how passive leadership occurs when a leader does not engage in the behaviours they should as a leader. “Research has shown that passive leadership or Laissez-faire leadership behaviour produces some of the most harmful organizational outcomes including higher rates of health and safety problems,” she said.

Examining leadership behaviours and well-being is important since leaders are often in the position to make critical decisions that affect other people. “Do we want leaders making important decisions when they are sleep deprived?” she asks. “You want your leader to be healthy, because as research has shown, if you’re in a healthy state, you are more likely to make better decisions and behave more ethically.” Carleton feels that one of the biggest problems we face is getting organization to understand how important sleep is in the functioning and well-being of their employees and the efficiency of their organization as a whole.

One of the unique and innovative methodologies that Carleton uses in her research are Daily Diary Studies that can capture slight differences in behaviour. According to Carleton, “when you think of something like abusive supervision, it’s based on a trait-level scale, but in daily diary study format we can demonstrate that there are changes in abusive behaviors based on factors such as sleep.” She shared that, “the nice thing about doing daily studies is that you get a lot of data in a reasonable amount of time. Not just that, but the participants seem to be more engaged, and there is less dropout because they are doing it every day. It is habit forming. For me, it’s just one of the best ways to capture this data, especially for something like sleep because it is something that changes daily.”

Carleton’s most recent work is focused on the areas of ADHD, sleep and passive leadership, which intersects with well-being and mental health. The focus on ADHD is unique in her field. She commented that, “over half the cases of ADHD carry on into adulthood and many people are diagnosed in adulthood. There is a stigma around the diagnosis of ADHD and highlighting it in research is important. It is a highly co-morbid disorder where people who have ADHD also tend to have depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders.”

Carleton found that “ADHD influences passive leadership indirectly through daytime sleepiness” She explained that, the implications of this study are important because this means that organizations can address daytime sleepiness through “health promotion activities and moderating expectations outside of work-hours. It shows organizations that there are ways to help people with mental disorders to engage in their work better without having them disclose these disorders. I think the practical implications of a study like this are important and is a nice contribution to an under-researched area within leadership.”

Carleton’s future projects will focus on a new branch of research surrounding leadership, gender and sleep.

This research is partially funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

Carleton is a co‐editor of the book Sleep and Work: Research Insights for the Workplace (Oxford University Press, 2016) with Julian Barling, Christopher Barnes and David Wagner.

She has collaborated with researchers at the U of S from the Colleges of Medicine and Dentistry on the topic of sleep and presented at the Precision Health Research Cafe held by the Strategic Research Initiatives at the U of S.

To learn more about Dr. Erica Carleton’s work, check out her Profile Page!

Carleton, E. L., & Barling, J. (Accepted). Why leaders don’t lead: The indirect effects of ADHD on passive leadership through daytime sleepiness. Stress and Health.

Carleton, E. L., Barling, J. & Trivisonno, M. (2018). Leaders’ trait mindfulness and transformational leadership: The mediating roles of leader’s positive affect and leadership self-efficacy. Canadian Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 50, 185-194.

Roberston, J., & Carleton, E. L. (2017). Uncovering how and when environmental leadership affects employees’ voluntary pro-environmental behavior. Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies, 25, 197-210.

Seijts, G., Crossan, M., Carleton, E. L. (2017). Embedding leader character into HR practices to achieve sustained excellence. Organizational Dynamics, 46, 30-39.

Carleton, E. L., Barling, J., Christie, A., Trivisonno, M., Tulloch, K., & Beauchamp, M. (2016). Scarred for the rest of my career? Career-long effects of abusive leadership on professional athlete aggression and task performance. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 38(4), 409-422.

Barling, J., Barnes, C., Carleton, E. L., Wagner, D. (2016) (Eds.) Sleep and work: Research insights for the workplace. NY: Oxford University Press.

Carleton, E., & Barling, J. (2017). Sleep, work and well-being. In C. L. Cooper and I. Campbell (Eds.) The Wiley handbook of stress and health: A guide to research and practice. London: Wiley-Blackwell.




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