Employee Start Time: Does the Early Bird Get the Worm?

We have plenty of adages emphasizing the positive implications of starting the day early. Past research seems to suggest that elevated morning activity is seen as an indicator of being responsible, dutiful, and a hard worker. In a series of studies, researchers (Yam, Fehr, & Barnes, 2014) examine whether this pro-morning bias actually exists by considering how employee start time influences job performance ratings. They also question how the supervisors’ own preference for morning or afternoon activity might play into that relationship.


Past empirical research found that employees’ level of morning activity is usually associated with positive traits such as being conscientious and having a solid work ethic. Conscientious employees are typically rated as higher performers because they tend to display stronger work motivation when compared to employees who are low in conscientiousness.

Across two different samples, the researchers found that employees who report later start times are perceived as less conscientious by their supervisors, and this negative stereotype ultimately results in lower performance ratings for those employees.


The authors found that the negative implications for employees who start the work day late largely depend on their supervisors’ own preference for morning or afternoon activity. Specifically, late-starters are rated as low performers due to being perceived as less conscientious only among supervisors who prefer morning activity themselves. For those supervisors who are more night owls than day larks, the morning bias doesn’t usually translate into negative repercussions.


The current study highlights the potential consequences of using flexible work arrangements, such as starting the work day late. Given that performance ratings may largely depend on the supervisors’ own chronotype, it is recommended that managers are reminded of potential negative consequences of morning bias, and encouraged to remain objective in their performance evaluations of employees.