New Science Explores The Relationship Between Hardiness, Sleep Deprivation, And Job Performance

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Hardiness is a personality trait defined by an individual’s ability to manage and respond constructively to stressful life experiences. But how important is hardiness in the workplace?

New research forthcoming in the journal Personality and Individual Differences examined this question in a sample of naval sailors. Specifically, a team of researchers led by Morten Nordmo of the University of Bergen in Norway tested whether naval cadets who exhibited a hardy disposition showed better job performance over a 30-day test period than their less hardy counterparts.

They found that they did. Why? The researchers suggest that people with hardy personalities are better able to withstand sleep deprivation which, in turn, allows them to maintain a high level of performance in the face of adversity.

“A hardy disposition is regarded as an advantage in demanding and stressful environments and is associated with improved military performance,” state Nordmo and his team. “The results of this diary study suggests that a demanding naval training mission taxes sleep in all service-members. However, hardy individuals have an overall performance advantage, in these challenging working conditions, that increases as the crew experiences reductions in sleep quality.”

To arrive at this conclusion, the researchers recruited 56 naval cadets in the Royal Norwegian Navy to participate in a 30-day study. The researchers first asked cadets to fill out a series of personality measures, including hardiness. The researchers then asked cadets to keep track of their sleep quality for the first 30 days of a 10-week trans-Atlantic training mission. The researchers also asked cadets to rate their peers’ job performance with questions such as “The cadet has performed his/her work duties in a sufficient manner, during today’s shift” and “The cadet has met the formal requirements in his/her work, during today’s shift.”

The researchers’ hypotheses were threefold. First, they expected hardiness to be associated with higher peer-rated job performance. Second, they hypothesized that sleep quality would be predictive of job performance. Third, they believed that sleep quality would have less of an impact on job performance among hardy individuals.

The results supported their hypotheses. First, the researchers reported that hardy individuals, on average, showed superior job performance compared to less hardy individuals. This finding is consistent with previous research. Furthermore, the researchers found evidence to support the hypothesis that hardy cadets are more resistant to the effects of sleep deprivation on job performance. They write, “Cadets high (vs. low) on dispositional hardiness were less affected by poor sleep quality […]. The results suggest that hardiness moderates the effect of poor sleep quality on job performance.”

What remains unclear is whether hardy individuals were able to maintain a high level of job performance because they suffered less from sleep deprivation or because they maintained a higher quality of sleep in the face of getting less of it. The researchers hope that future studies will explore this question.

Another important question for future research is whether hardiness can be trained, or if it’s better thought of as a “God-given” ability. Until then, the researchers underscore the relevance of a “thorough selection of psychological hardiness among personnel involved in operational settings, and possibly in particular the importance of selecting out those too low on hardiness.”

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