“There are twenty-four hours per day given us; eight of these should be for work, eight for sleep, and the remaining eight for recreation and in which for men to do what little things they want for themselves.”
Samuel Parnell1840

Next month we commemorate the introduction of the 8 hour working day, something we have been observing in principle if not reality for over 100 years in New Zealand. To me personally this a is an observation worth preserving yet at the same time I think there is real value in questioning whether what worked and was appropriate 100 years ago is still the best way to do things. For example when should our eight hours of work occur?

Putting aside the fact that most workers work more than 8 hours a day or more than 40 hours a week, and that we still have a relatively high number of people unable to find employment, I think one other thing that we should be considering is why we have settled on the 8 to 4 or 9 to 5 has the holy grail of operating hours. If the only real reason for doing this is because this is how we have always done things then perhaps it is worth considering the benefit of looking at this with fresh eyes. There is evidence to suggest that these hours do not match with our natural circadian rhythms and are therefore not the most effective.

This is further reinforced if we say we work these hours because it fits in with family life and in particular the school day. Once again there is research that suggests that a 10-year-old will not start focussing properly for academic work before 8.30am. Similarly, a 16-year-old should start at 10am for best results and university students should start at 11am. Based on this simply moving the school times could improve academic performance and release the potential of young people in the community.

Another point worth considering is that changing or staggering work hours could reduce demand on existing infrastructure, allow for more efficient use of under-utilised resources, provide more time for people to take advantage of tourism opportunities and better manage congestion on our roads. Examining why we work when we do needs to be considered if we are to better shape a work environment that is relevant to future needs as well as respecting what has gone before.

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