A 24-hour society  

“Contrary  to  popular  belief,  a  24-hour working economy does  not  imply  that  one  works  for twenty-four hours per day, or that businesses are necessarily always open, but rather that the normal  eight-hour working day can be performed at any time during the twenty-four hour period within any given work situation.” (Kenya report on 24-hour economy, 2009)

Recent calls have been made to transform Barbados into a ’24-hour society’ in which commercial activities occur around the clock.  Imagine a young couple discussing the details of a mortgage arrangement with a loan officer at 11 p.m. at a local financial institution or an elderly lady receiving her medication at 2 a.m. from her local pharmacy.

 The ’24-hour society’ is generally seen as a positive economic move for many societies across the globe. From one perspective, time is the most prized resource or asset in this life.  By harnessing this most precious and available resource (time), a wide range of benefits for organizations, consumers and the entire country can be enjoyed.

Let’s look at these benefits. Firstly, operating around the clock allows businesses to generate more products and services, cut costs due to the use of flexible work arrangements, compete in different time zones, and stay in contact with branch offices or suppliers in different locations all over the world.  The 24-hour society promotes economies of scale where the more one produces, the lower the cost of production per unit.

Secondly, outside of increased employment as a positive, employees can benefit from the improved workplace flexibility which may allow them greater autonomy to choose more comfortable working hours, schedules, or special job arrangements including job sharing, flexi-time, and home- and teleworking. For example, flexi-time allows employees to work during times that are most convenient for them.

Thirdly, consumers would be able to access a wider variety of products and services outside of standard hours that are important to their needs such as health care, food, clothing, finance, transportation, etc.  Based on multiplier effects, the extra money earned will trickle down to consumers, which in turn will increase demand for goods and services and investment. This, in turn, will lead to the creation of more jobs to cater to the increasing demand.

Fourthly, the decongestion of traffic in certain areas is very likely, as people would be working at different hours of the day.   Finally, it has been evidenced that 24-hour societies have enhanced international competitiveness and are most attractive to local and international investors. Overall, a 24-hour society caters diversely to organizational, employee, consumer, and national needs.

Notwithstanding the aforementioned benefits, there are a number of challenges and problems that have been found in 24-hour societies.  For example, reports emerging from research in certain European countries suggested that working non-standard hours and longer hours may have adverse effects on workers’ health.  Shift work and similar flexible arrangements have been shown to alter people’s circadian rhythms (body clock that controls sleep/wake cycle) to conflict with their daily schedules.

Hence, the body might operate in sleep mode when it is time for work.  Moreover, the subsequent impacts on sleep quality and overall health of workers would increase the risk of injury and accidents at work, absenteeism, and service and product quality failures.  These problems, in turn, would lower overall organizational productivity and increase costs to organizations.

Other research has shown that family and marital life in 24-hour societies are adversely affected due to the increased emphasis on work life over family life.  For example, a North American study revealed that working unusual hours increased the risk of separation and divorce in families where couples were married less than five years and had children.  Finally, the increased crime (e.g. theft and burglary) has been cited as natural feature in 24-hour societies.

In order for a country to take full advantage of the 24-hour society, sound management and policies must be a primary consideration. Firstly, it is critical that parties of the Social Partnership ‘flesh out’ and assess the key issues surrounding the implementation of this system and its deeper implications for labour, employers, unions and members of wider society.  Secondly, legislation is needed to protect not only the interests of business owners but also the needs and interests of workers and consumers operating within such a society.

Government policies and regulations are also needed to adequately guide employers in managing human resources operating under flexible work arrangements or nonstandard contract hours.  Workplace health and safety policies and legislation must be placed high on the priority list as a means of safeguarding the work environment and those who operate in it.

Emergency, transportation, and security (and policing) services must be enhanced and applied around the clock.  The 24-hour society, if managed properly, will allow us to do more with the available space, human resources and technology that we have.

In Kenya, a national steering committee and task force (made up of private sector and public sector agencies) was formed to strategically plan and implement their 24-hour society.  This committee conducted surveys to assess how businesses and consumers felt about the move towards a 24-hour society and associated concerns and suggestions.

The committee was also responsible for identifying incentives for businesses under this system including tax breaks for the production of goods and services outside normal working hours, awards of special licenses for firms willing to work within a 24-hour system, subsidies on energy/power use outside of standard hours (and efforts were made to push these businesses to pursue renewable forms of energy), provision of land sites for 24-hour-based businesses with reduced taxation, and provision of ‘around the clock’ and reliable transportation.

There were also initiatives to curb crime including ‘Crime Reduction Partnerships’ where businesses work together with police and security services to track crime and find ways to discourage crime on their premises.

Moscow (Russia), Singapore, Spain and Sydney (Australia) have all benefited from the effective management of the 24-hour society.  If Barbados is to realize and enjoy these benefits, a strong collaboration among employers, unions, workers, Government, and civil society is necessary for effective management and implementation.

Source: (Dr. Dwayne Devonish is senior lecturer in Management at the Cave Hill Campus of the Universi)

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