It's hard not to crack a smile upon seeing a co-worker asleep on the job, but for the employee in question, it's often a humorless situation. Most employers discourage their employees from sleeping while at work, and might even enact a form of discipline upon hearing of such an offense. In certain instances, however, managers might even encourage their employees to take short naps at work.
A significant risk of falling asleep on the job is being disciplined when discovered, whether your manager catches you in the act of a co-worker reports you. In many jobs, sleeping is prohibited and your employer will discipline you accordingly. There are four common types of discipline: Verbal and written warnings, suspension and termination. For most employers, the punishment fits the crime; being overtired and falling asleep for a few minutes at your desk isn't overly egregious, so you're likely to receive a warning.
Falling asleep in your cubicle decreases productivity and can result in discipline, but isn't otherwise serious. In certain workplaces, sleeping on the job is much more significant. For example, a night security guard who sleeps on the job is unable to guard the premises, while someone who falls asleep while operating equipment can lead to injuries. Business insurance firm Plapp Insurance warns that those who work the night shift are more susceptible to falling asleep as they might not get adequate sleep during the day.
Workplace performance and safety organization Circadian warns against disciplining employees who occasionally sleep on the job and states that short naps can increase alertness and productivity. A 2011 article in "Inc." magazine listed several businesses in which progressive managers allowed naps to increase productivity. In certain traditional jobs, sleeping is common; health professionals and firefighters, for example, have sleeping quarters to take naps between calls.
If you notice a co-worker who suddenly falls asleep, don't automatically associate the nap with laziness. Nearly 200,000 Americans have narcolepsy, according to eMedTV. A common symptom of this sleep disorder is sudden naps that aren't related to fainting. This condition does not have a cure, so if you have been diagnosed as having narcolepsy, consider sharing the information with your manager or human resources department.