Why do we change the clocks?

10:10 (remember them?) whitter on about having lighter evenings if we maintain British Summer Time (GMT+1) all year round. Because this would cause people to use less lighting, this would apparently save energy. It’s wasteful to sleep through daylight in the morning, they argue. Such a policy would also, RoSPA claim save lives by having lighter evenings. They believe we should be on Central European time, GMT+1 in the winter and GMT+2 in the summer.

Aren’t we missing a trick here? The reason there is a “rush-hour” is that apparently, most jobs start at 9am (Though I’ve never had one that started so revoltingly late). Wouldn’t it be better if we could, instead of faffing about with clocks twice a year, break the tyranny of the “working day”? Flexibility should be the key: If you need daylight for your job, farmers for example, get up earlier. If you want, as BST Campaigner, William Willett did, a round of Golf in the evening, go in to work at 6am, and leave at 2pm. If you’re the kind of lazy slug person for whom Mornings are not your thing, arrange for your lie-in with your employer but stay on at work later. This would mean less congested roads as people’s commutes are spread out over several hours rather than a rush at 8:30, resulting better use of infrastructure, lower energy costs (if that’s your fetish), and a happier work-force, because flexibility increases happiness, as does cutting commuting times.

Schools, for example, should be free to change their working day to maximise daylight so the kiddies can be seen on the way to and from school, if needed. Why does a school have to start at 9am? Why not 8am or 7am? I would expect organisations in the far North of Scotland to make the most use of this flexibility, because they have the least daylight to play with sunrise at around 9am, and sunset at 3:30, you could either have no travel in daylight, or one commute in daylight by starting before or after dawn. I don’t know, and crucially neither does the man in Whitehall at least not for everyone.

The “working day” is a fairly modern phenomenon. Before the industrial revolution, people were largely paid piece work: they earned depending on how much they produced. Most manufactures where done by hand. However with the mechanisation of process, industrialists needed regular hours to keep the machines served. This led to the weekly wage, and the culture of presenteeism: your productivity was defined by the machine you served, your job was to be there to serve it, on time. This culture of presenteeism has survived the demise of the industries that produced it.

The clock should reflect natural phenomena the one thing even the most hardened bureaucrat would not argue he could do anything about: I would like noon to be when the sun is at it’s zenith. Otherwise it’s confusing to our circadian rhythms, another subtle cause of stress in the modern world. Instead of adapting our clocks to the requirements of Industry, why not adapt to the requirements of industry to our biology and the natural world, and give people greater autonomy over how they live their lives into the bargain? We do not live in an industrial, factory-centred world any more. Most people have jobs in the service industry in one form or another. Perhaps some people would like to go shopping at 7am, perhaps others at 9pm. With flexible staffing, this could be achieved with an overlap between the “early shift” and the “late shift” in the middle of the day benefiting not only the employee, who gets to structure the day more flexibly, but the employer who gets his shop/factory/call-centre/whatever open for longer. The customer benefits for the same reason.

Here’s my campaign: freedom to organise your life as you and the organisations you’re part of see fit. GMT all year round.

8 replies
  1. IanVisits
    IanVisits says:

    The reason most people work a generic 9-5 type day is because they have to in order to liaise with everyone else who works a 9-5 type day.

    I used to have some flexibility at my last job but still had to be available between at least 10-4.

    It was already hard enough getting someone who wanted to start at 10am to come in for an 8am meeting, but what if I wanted to start at 7am instead?

    Add in lunch breaks being staggered all over the place, and the effective period when everyone needed is also available could shrink to just a couple of hours per day.

    Yes, flexibility helps a lot, but in the modern workplace, it is going to be impossible to have a free-for-all as far as when people start their daily chores.

  2. Malcolm Bracken
    Malcolm Bracken says:

    Up to a point, you're right. But the need to Liaise is a small part of the job, I do business with many time-zones, and I manage. Perhaps, you'd be more productive if you had to cram all your Liaison functions into a shorter time and got on with something more productive than meetings in the early morning?

    I don't know, the point is every industry is different. Having EVERYONE start at 9am is a huge problem.

  3. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    If you've got a larger business it's easy to stagger staff times, and big companies i've worked for have mostly offered me that flexability.

    Can't see it working for small businesses.

    At my place i answer phones to customers between 9-5, which is when they are also working, and when they rign.

    It's only me who answers it, so theres no one to stagger the cover with.

    No one is stopping businesses staggering times, but with school runs in the morning, and companies wanting to sync with other companies they do business with, oh etc.

  4. Malcolm Bracken
    Malcolm Bracken says:

    "At my place i answer phones to customers between 9-5, which is when they are also working, and when they ring"

    Maybe they only ring at those times out of Habit? EVERYONE goes to work at 9am, therefore that's when the phones start to ring. To suggest that as a reason to not start a working day earlier is circular!

  5. JimmyGiro
    JimmyGiro says:

    The communication argument has evolved along with email.

    Yes the phone is more direct, but it stops at least two people for each call from doing other things at that time. Whereas the email is written, and read, when those actions are convenient; thus optimising choice and efficiency.

    And whilst we're on the subject, why not have worldwide universal time, such as astronomers around the globe require, when organising international synchronized observations?

  6. Castors
    Castors says:

    Aren't we missing a trick here? The reason there is a "rush-hour" is that apparently, most jobs start at 9am (Though I've never had one that started so revoltingly late).


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