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I work as a software engineer. In this line of work, we typically have a flexible schedule, and as long as we get stuff done we can come to work late and leave early.

In my experience it seems that colleagues who arrive at work early (= right on time) are generally the most productive in the team. Sure there are always outliers, but in general this seems to be the case, at least in my experience and line of work.

Is there statistical evidence or studies that support this?

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It's likely more an indicator of discipline/willpower/motivation than anything else, even if there is such a correlation. In my country, getting up early to work means 1-2 hours spent in traffic, compared to the half hour drive if going to work at 10 AM. Also, as everyone goes to work at 10 AM, it's unproductive to come too early, because the people who come and leave early would not communicate as much with the people who come and leave later. – Muz Mar 5 '13 at 14:15
Frankly if you are coming to work late and leaving early, you aren't working the hours you should be (and that you are being paid to work) and of course you are less productive. I'll bet the early attendees are simply working more hours. – HLGEM Mar 5 '13 at 15:12
@Muz I think your comment could be an answer. – janos Mar 6 '13 at 8:38
up vote 21 down vote accepted

A recent study conducted by Christoph Randler, a biology professor at the University of Education at Heidelberg, indicates that early risers tend to have a more proactive and productive mindset.

As anecdotal evidence, it is also known that many extremely successful business people get up to work early. See Business Insider article.

Edit: A new study from the University of Washington shows employers perceive latecomers as lazy, even if they perform just as well in their job:

We suggest that supervisors exhibit a pervasive morning bias and stereotype employees with late start times as less conscientious than employees with early start times. These perceptions in turn lead to lower performance ratings for employees with late start times.

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Providing the opposite point of view to @Gruber, I don't think there is a correlation. I start work at 8am. A teammate starts at 10am. We both work approximately the same length of day. (this works out great for coverage). We are both highly productive people. As more anecdotal evidence, I've seen unproductive people get in at 8am too. I live in an are where people take the train to work (rather than driving) so traffic isn't a criteria.

Different people have different peak productivity times. Or home/personal needs for that matter. Arranging one's day for peak personal productivity is smart.

Even if there was a correlation, I'd be skeptical. Suppose more un-motivated people sleep late and come in later. We could still have the best performers doing the same thing.

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Randler also said, "it’s admittedly a simplification to say that morning people are proactive" – JeffO Mar 17 '13 at 15:32

As said in the comments, I believe there might be a correlation, but I'm skeptical as to what the correlation means.

One of the main pillars of productivity is doing the most important thing first. Productive people might prioritize work as the most difficult thing to do, so they head straight to work first thing in the morning. Others may have young children and care to them first thing in the morning, with their work as second priority.

You can say that a lot of the successful top management can get to work at 5 AM, but that's because they're not the ones who have to send their kids to school. Besides, why stay at home frying eggs when you have a gourmet chef in the office?

The unproductive person goes to work with the intention of filling his side of the contract, i.e. working 8 hours a day. He does not try to put in a good 8 hours. Instead, he tries to take as much of it for selfish personal use, but at least show that he's "doing his job". He may come to work early, if there is an incentive to do so or disincentive to doing otherwise, but given the flexibility, he would rather not go to work at all and try to shave off as much time as possible.

The most productive people will start by tackling the difficult tasks first. His work often aligns with his life goals. He gets fidgety if he stays at home and does nothing in the morning, so will try to show up for work as early as possible and leave when he's done his best.

Then you have the professionals whose job does not align with their life goals, but are doing it for the money/other rewards. They keep strictly to their contracts, perhaps giving a little more than asked. They're very productive too, but more out of discipline than motivation.

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For your profession, it is important to get enough sleep, to be good at time management and to follow some structured and well-managed work process.

From personal experience in IT, I had many colleagues coming early only to impress others with their attitude and to go home earlier. No one could confirm they were at work since 5:30 - 6:00, but since they were first, others were impressed :) The overall poor performance was masked!

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Correlation is not causation. Forcing those late risers to come to work earlier may end up being counter-productive.

Younger people tend to struggle with sleep habits for bioligical and social reasons, so getting up early compared to older people could be harder. Maybe the productivity is related to experience?

Are your observations objective? How do you measure productivity? @Gruber cited a study that mentions late risers tend to be more creative and intelligent. I would hate to think these people are deemed less productive because they don't play the corporate game well enough. The best ideas are not necassarily dependant on amount of time spent working on them. Was Shakespeare known for spending more time on his plays?

Are corporations more impressed with form over substance? Are late-arivers automatically labeled as someone who doesn't care about the job? Now they have to work even harder to over-come this negative impression to get a promotion.

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