By Karen M. Hopkins, SPHR
Daylight Saving Time (DST) has, once again, been implemented in most of the United States and in a number of countries around the world amid the recurring debate about its effects, good and bad. Before we delve into those issues, let’s review the history of this concept of “saving” daylight.
There is some information indicating that ancient civilizations adjusted their activities based upon the seasons – not surprising. This was – and had to be – a natural occurrence since they did not have the services of a utility company to provide light when the natural source wasn’t available. The first “modern” discussion of a daylight saving time effort in the US was proposed by Benjamin Franklin in 1784, who proposed a formal project for saving candles. It was not put into policy.
George Vernon Hudson, in 1895, proposed a two hour shift in time – forward in October with the shift back in March. It garnered discussion but no action. Spring forward to 1905 in the United Kingdom where William Willett offered the idea of moving clocks forward 20 minutes for four consecutive Sundays in April, and moving back in the same fashion in September. A bill to support this was introduced into the House of Commons, but did not become law.
The first serious efforts at Daylight Saving Time was adopted during WWI in Germany (1916) in an effort to save fuel. It was quickly adopted by many countries on both sides of the war. Following the war, many countries went back to Greenwich Mean Time. However, Russia did not revert its clocks, and did not realize until 1980 that they were an hour off most of the industrialized world clocks. DST reappeared in 1942 in the US by order of President Roosevelt called “War Time” immediately after the bombing of Pearl Harbor . In mid-1945, time zones went back to “Peace Time.”
DST in its early days caused havoc with public transportation schedules, broadcasting, and localities since it was not widely implemented. The Uniform Time Act of 1966 established DST to begin on the last Sunday in April and extend until the last Sunday of October. We have since seen it creep into the calendar earlier and remain longer. DST is now implemented in over 70 countries worldwide. Affecting over a billion people.
Although DST is now a given, the debate continues over whether its benefits are real. Recent research by the California Energy Commission disputes that there is actually any savings in energy due to DST. In fact, their research suggests a slight decrease. As well as increased pollution emissions.
Tourism operators believe DST is a financial boon to outdoor warm weather activities. Others believe that the “additional” hours of daylight provide more opportunities for families to enjoy outdoor activities together during the week. Those who appear to wholeheartedly endorse DST are sports enthusiasts – golfers, cyclists, runners.
Those not so thrilled by DST include farmers who do not find any benefit – livestock and plants do change their behavior or growth rates based on a clock. There is also a safety concern for children who must wait for school buses and other transportation in the dark. And, anyone who has tried to adjust a young child’s mealtime schedule to DST may not have kind comments to make.
There has also been research on health issues related to Daylight Saving Time. Research reported in The New England Journal of Medicine (October 30, 2008) stated that transitions into DST could disrupt chronologic rhythms and influence the duration and quality of sleep, lasting for many days after the time shift. This disruption has been linked to an increase in heart attacks during this time. Other studies have indicated that the human body does not adjust to DST at all. Increased suicide rates have been reported, especially in males. Some medical devices may be affected, especially those with sleep modes. Examples are implanted pacemakers and Holter monitors.
And so, the debate goes on. What is the effect on the workplace? We do see that some have a more difficult time adjusting to the change than others – and it isn’t just stubbornness, according to research. We can try to include steps to assist in the adjustment in our wellness programs. We can be a bit more patient, while still expecting employees to adhere to time and attendance policies. And, we can continue the lively debate as to whether DST is – or isn’t – a good idea.