Don’t decide to fire that employee at the end of the day

Making major decisions, especially personnel decisions when you are "cognitively fatigued" is dangerous.
Making major decisions, especially personnel decisions when you are “cognitively fatigued” is dangerous.

Everyone has to make multiple decisions daily at work. We would like to be able to feel the decisions we make are good ones. What about the really important decisions we make, such as the ones affecting someone’s job? Are you making good decisions there? If you are not considering the time of day or what you workload has been prior to making these decisions then you may not be making the best decisions.

Yes, time of day matters

Scientific research is showing us that when a decision is made during the day has an effect on the quality of that decision. The earlier the decision is made the less the effect of, what Professor Francesca Gino calls, “cognitive fatigue.” According to Gino “Cognitive fatigue is a very common condition that results from sustained engagement that taxes your mental resources.” In her Harvard Business Review article she says “Research has found that persistent cognitive fatigue results in burnout at work, lower motivation, increased distractibility, and poor information processing. It even lowers the quality of everyone’s judgment and decisions, including those of experts.”
It happens to all of us, yet we ignore the effect of this fatigue and make major decisions at the wrong time. Research shows that judges, doctors and executives often make “easier” decision and thus potentially worse decisions the more fatigued they become. Her article says “The overall demand of multiple decisions on people’s cognitive resources throughout the day erodes their ability to resist making easier and potentially inappropriate or bad decisions.”

Time of day

Her research also shows that time of day is involved, generally the later in the work day the worse the decisions can become, generally due to this cognitive fatigue, unless breaks are taken before major decisions are made. Research on late day test taking shows that scores improve if the test takers have the opportunity to take a break prior to, and during, the testing process.

Making that big HR decision

This research shows us that if you are going to be making a potentially career altering decision about an employee you are better off making it in the morning before you have suffered from the effects of cognitive fatigue. Sleep on the decision over night and you will make a better quality decision. Making that decision under the influence of cognitive fatigue may result in taking the easy way out and just saying “you are fired.” If you cannot go that long, at least take a break before you make your final decision.
Trying to avoid the effects of cognitive fatigue will improve your decision making in many areas of your life. Try to be conscious of it.
Photo credit: radnatt

2 thoughts on “Don’t decide to fire that employee at the end of the day”

  1. Maybe companies need to embrace a plan that puts all the tough decisions and intense meetings in morning hours. The same holds true for scheduling an interview, it’s best done (as many people agree) early in the day, a little early in the week, 10:30am Tuesday morning precisely. Apparently, recruiters are in the best frame of mind at this time.

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