Sleeping on the Job

Sleeping while at work is generally considered to be unacceptable behavior by most U.S. employers.  With some types of work falling asleep can be dangerous, while with other types such as office work, falling asleep implies one’s failure to be available for productive work during a specified time. There is no tradition in this country of a post-lunch or afternoon Siesta. Yet dozens of studies agree that the U.S. is a sleep-deprived nation. A National Commission on Sleep Disorders, 2003 reported: “Sleep deprivation costs $150 billion each year in higher stress and reduced worker productivity.” In the early 1980s I tried to imagine desks that would accommodate an employee’s need for a quick nap. While I was working on these designs, the American office itself was changing.  The purpose and design of the desk was being redefined. The Computer Revolution had arrived. Here, an employee takes a break from working on her Mac Plus. She climbs into her soft, comfortable and soundproofed File Cabinet Sleeping Quarters for a quick nap.

As the computer took over more office functions, the concept of the Work Station emerged. I wondered if it would be possible to acknowledge the way workers were increasingly stuck at their stations by designing the workstation and the office chair together as a unit.  Aside from needing to walk down the hall to take a bathroom break or to eat lunch, one might never have to move from one’s workstation. In this concept the chair flattens out for naps. And I tried incorporating a snack machine into the design. The employee would rarely have an excuse for leaving his or her station. By 1990 I had started to worry about what the future held for office workers. Might they become prisoners at their jobs and be required as a condition of employment to never leave the office, day or night?  Would their work stations become their homes? Here I showed how an employee’s life had been reduced to a few functions, accommodated in an enlarged Live-in Work Station. In this concept, I imagined that the office worker needed to ask for permission to have social interactions outside of the office building, knowing that his or her Full-Life Pay would be reduced based on the amount of time spent away from the job. While some of my designs for Live-in Work Stations lacked bathroom facilities, others included them. In some of my concepts, tall cubicle walls supported an accordion-style, folding, sound-proofed ceiling allowing one to sleep – or meditate – peacefully inside. A sign saying “Do Not Disturb” could be hung from the doorknob. One of my concepts that might end up in the Never Going To Happen category is Nappers’ Cubicles for seniors.  As recently as 2005, when this was drawn, trends were forecast that showed incomes remaining fixed during retirement at a time of rising health care costs, forcing many senior citizens to remain at the job past age 65. Giving the trend a positive twist, cheery articles appeared in AARP, The Magazine that showed smiling seniors eagerly making use of job skills late into their 70s! Believing that the forecast was accurate, I reasoned that it would become law for companies to offer napping facilities for senior employees. Yet the current severe economic downturn has upended that prediction. Even though the number of elderly Americans as a percent of the population continues to rise, the availability of jobs for all citizens has been gutted. Now, most seniors who need extra income find themselves unemployable. Ageism, a term applied to discrimination in the hiring or firing of senior employees, suddenly seems like a meaningless issue. With large numbers of citizens of all ages competing for the same few jobs, almost everyone can feel discriminated against, or as was said about African-Americans, they may become “the last to be hired and the first to be fired.” Nappers’ Cubicles, a cute idea, might need to go in my Clever Ideas Waste Bin.

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The summer between high school and college, I got a job as a night watchman at a welding shop owned by family friends. It was really make-work to help with college expenses. My mother insisted I take a cot so I could get some sleep. I was very embarrassed showing up with a cot for my first night watchman shift. They let me set it up. I did nap, but didn't sleep much because right then my girlfriend told me she thought she was pregnant. My cot became the place of intense prayer that I be delivered from this possibility.
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