Shift work patterns to beat heat amid global warming, suggest Oxford researchers

The researchers recommend starting work at 6 am and ending at 2 pm in the UK to avoid the peak afternoon heat, potentially leading some employees to begin their day as early as 3 or 4 am to accommodate lengthy commutes


As climate change continues to impact the planet, the traditional 9-5 work schedule may become a thing of the past. Researchers from the University of Oxford suggest that as global warming raises temperatures, companies may need to adjust their employees’ working patterns to cope with the uncomfortable heat. For instance, they recommend starting work at 6 am and finishing by 2 pm in the UK to avoid the peak afternoon heat. This shift might require some workers to begin their day as early as 3 or 4 am to account for long commutes. The study, published in the journal Nature Sustainability, indicates that European countries, including Britain, will have to adapt the most to deal with oppressive temperatures.

Some businesses have already embraced flexible summer hours to tackle the heat. Companies like L’Oréal, Asos, and Nike allow employees to leave work earlier on Fridays during summer months. However, the University of Oxford’s study’s schedule suggestion is not just about engaging workers but rather a serious effort to prevent employees from overheating annually. The researchers argue that ending the workday at 2 pm is better than a later time, considering that heat builds up and becomes more unbearable as the day progresses.

Spain has already taken the lead in adjusting work hours during extreme heat waves, with businesses mandating earlier starting and finishing times. For example, in Andalucía, outdoor workers like builders and agricultural workers often shift to an early schedule, working from 6am to 2pm. Even shops close during the hottest hours and reopen later in the day.

The suggested changes to working hours would particularly benefit those working outdoors or in buildings ill-equipped to handle extreme temperatures. However, even air-conditioned workspaces aren’t exempt from concerns. The researchers caution that a ‘vicious cycle’ could occur, as more fossil fuels are burned to power air conditioning, further contributing to climate warming and necessitating even more energy consumption. Hence, office workers, too, might benefit from clocking out earlier to reduce energy usage.

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