Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood is only doing his job. When all the talk in Washington is about slashing the deficit, he assures taxpayers that under his watch air traffic controllers will be allowed to sleep on the job. This presumably will ensure that taxpayer dollars are not being wasted.
The trouble is Secretary LaHood, who is responsible for the FAA, is woefully misinformed. While no one is advocating employees slack off, many in the medical community have advocated the efficacy of short naps.
Sleep research shows that naps are good for an individual. A recent nap study conducted at the University of California Berkley demonstrated that those who took naps outperformed those who did not. Lead author Matthew Walker said, “Sleep not only rights the wrong of prolonged wakefulness, but, at a neurocognitive level, it moves you beyond where you were before you took a nap.”
While individuals in the Berkley study took 90 minute naps, other research shows that naps of shorter duration can be rejuvenating. For example, research conducted by NASA shows that a nap lasting 26 minutes can improve performance by 34%. Another study at Stanford’s School of Medicine showed that “napping resulted in improved mood, increased alertness and reduced lapses in performance among doctors and nurses.”
Sara Medwick, Ph.D. researcher at the Salk Institute and author of Take a Nap, Change Your Life, advocates that companies encourage their workers to nap if they so desire. Her studies of EEG and MRI brain scans of nappers “pinpoint the areas of the brain that underlie these improvements.”
Not all such studies are conclusive, but it is interesting to note, that air traffic controllers in Canada, Europe and Japan are permitted to nap. What’s more, some scientists are suggesting the FAA allow controllers to nap, too, as a means to helping them stay focused when they are awake. Therefore it would seem that senior management at the FAA should be more cognizant of the sleep deprivation issue before conflating napping on the job with bilking the taxpayers.
This is not the first time the FAA has come under scrutiny. Two weeks ago Southwest Airlines grounded a fleet of Boeing 737 airliners after the roof on one aircraft blew off in flight. And the other day the First Lady’s airplane had to be diverted from landing due to proximity to a larger jet that was making its approach. Controller error is suspected.
Clearly the FAA has some serious issues to face but informed rhetoric from senior management is not helpful. Such grandstanding may make headlines but ultimately it will erode trust even further within the organization. Senior leaders must realize that their words matter, but their actions matter more. When managers and employees sense they are being marginalized by their bosses, morale plummets. This makes the job of those within the organization who must find remedies for the problems and correct them immediately even harder.
Airline safety is a national priority but with poor leadership from the Department of Transportation it makes it more difficult to believe that the FAA can do its job effectively.
John Baldoni is an internationally recognized leadership development consultant, executive coach, author, and speaker. In 2010 Top Leadership Gurus named John one of the world’s top 25 leadership experts. John’s newest book is 12 Steps to Power Presence: How to Assert Your Authority to Lead. (Amacom 2010). Readers are welcome to visit John’s website, www.johnbaldoni.com.