9 to 5? What are the ideal working hours?
Two-thirds in survey say they would prefer earlier start and finish to working day
What time we start and finish work is a much more important issue than it used to be.
Gone are the rigid days of working standard office hours, as eulogised in song by Dolly Parton. More of us are being given a choice of when we work, especially those who work from home. And later starting times in schools have been found to safeguard teenagers’ sleep.
One thing is for certain, though: you will never get everyone to agree on what time it is best to start work.
That said, a new survey has found that two-thirds of people employed in Britain would prefer to start work earlier than the traditional 9am, and finish before 5pm – with 8am-4pm being the most popular working hours.
People tend to prefer a late start to their day when they are young. That reflects their biology, not their lifestyle. Between the ages of 14 and 24, our sleep patterns change because our body clock changes, and we wake up two or three hours later than most people. Early starts at this age can lead to sleep deprivation, health problems and poor performance.
In contrast, people in their 50s have much earlier sleep/wake times.
What matters most is not when we start work, but when we have to wake up. More than a quarter (27 per cent) of people in London were found to prefer a later start (after 9am), as the commute time is likely to be longer if earlier.
Most of us wake to an alarm, and that is because our working hours do not match our body clocks. Most working hours fit only a few of us, and there is a biological reason for that. Whatever age you are, wherever you live, and whatever job you have, your body clock controls how you feel every hour of the day.
Unsurprisingly, body clocks are different for different people, making some prefer early mornings and some nights. These differences between body clocks can mean that “very early-morning people” wake up at 5am or earlier, just as “very late-night people” are going to sleep.
So when it comes to start times for work, there is no one-size-fits-all solution – quite the opposite. The fairest starting time is probably 10am – that would protect most people’s sleep and maximise their work performance, but it would still disadvantage some workers.
Does that matter?
Fighting your body clocks to fit in with work hours is dangerous: it leads to sleep deprivation that has an impact on our health, mood, mental health and even work performance.
It doesn’t have to be this way: synchronising our working hours to our body clocks is already possible for many home workers (who are soon to be one in five of all workers) and those not at work.
Or maybe we should just go to work when we feel like it?