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Should the UK have siestas?

Caitlin Hall


scorching sun overlooking dry planes

The days of damp and dismal summers may be long gone—replaced by sweltering heat, sunburn, water shortages, and crop failures. If July and August 2022 were anything to go by, climate change is set to have a lasting impact on the UK, with potentially drastic consequences. The latest record-breaking high temperature in the UK was 40.3°C, recorded in Coningsby, Lincolnshire, on July 19.

Comparisons have been made to the sizzling heatwave of 1976; there are fears that water rationing and public standpipes—features of the summer of ‘76—might follow the impending hosepipe ban. With global warming more apparent than ever, Britain’s scorching summer temperatures could become an annual occurrence.

Does the modern workplace need to adapt to extreme heat? There have been multiple debates about whether traditional rules should go out of the window during a heatwave, e.g. shorts as acceptable workwear. Another question posed by many during the recent heatwave was whether we should, like our Spanish neighbours, adopt siestas into our working days. Like an extended lunch break, and generally taken between 2pm and 5pm, a siesta would allow employees to take an afternoon nap during the hottest part of the day.

While an afternoon nap might sound appealing, especially in sickly, sticky, sweaty weather, Spanish employees often have to work late into the evening to make up time lost to their siesta. Parents would hardly see their children in the evenings, they wouldn’t be able to pick them up from school, and they may have to spend more on childcare during the evening. Some Spanish workers are pushing to abolish siestas, as they leave them with no evenings and they make them feel as if they’re always at work. Others also argue that a middle of the day nap results in decreased productivity and leaves them feeling lethargic for the rest of the day.

woman slouched over her laptop due to extreme lethargy and tiredness

woman slouched over her laptop due to extreme lethargy and tiredness

Siestas were practical for agrarian workers. They would take a break during the hottest part of the day and begin work again during the cooler evenings; however, this may not be as beneficial in modern workplaces.

Some schools and workplaces closed during this summer’s extreme heat. Many hospitality venues allowed their employees to enjoy the worst two days at home in the sun with their families. As for students, the pandemic introduced remote teaching, which certainly comes in useful. Whether there’s a snowstorm or heatwave outside, students can still complete their schoolwork from home.

In opposition to the siesta, many have argued that it would be better to begin the working day earlier, at 7am and finishing around 2pm; this would allow workers to get home before the worst of the heat gets underway. It takes me a while to fall asleep, so I’d be at the end of my siesta before I’d finally doze off. Not to mention, I wouldn’t feel relaxed enough to succumb to sleep if I had have half my workday to still complete when I woke up. I’d rather start and finish earlier and have more of the afternoon and evening to myself.

If the temperatures we’ve seen this year are to become commonplace, our daily routines and systems will have to change. British houses and offices are designed to keep the heat in, with double glazed windows, insulated walls, and no air conditioning. Will UK Plc eventually acclimatise to these drastic increases in temperature, or will we just suffer every summer?

Record temperatures and extreme heat won’t be the only consequences of climate change that we’ll witness over the coming years. The workplace might have to adapt significantly to keep up.

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