Work Hours May Shift in Cities Like Mumbai, New Delhi Due to Global Warming


Dec 16, 2021


Image Credit: Getty Images/Hitesh Sonar For The Swaddle

The pandemic left us with little choice but to change the way we work when it forced us to adapt to working from home — a.k.a. the “WFH-model.” Many appreciated the change; many didn’t. Now, even as we’re still caught in the throes of the global health crisis — courtesy of Omicron — scientists have predicted that our professional lives may undergo yet another change. This time, the driving force isn’t the novel coronavirus but an older, familiar, human-made phenomenon we know as climate change.

According to a new study published in Nature Communications, rising temperatures may force us to shift our work timings to cooler parts of the day — like the evening, or early in the morning. As a “night owl,” the latter seems like the more challenging alternative to me, but then again, I’m not sure I want to spend my evenings working either. But soon, it seems like we may not have a way out of choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea.

“There are physiological limits to the heat/humidity combinations that humans can tolerate,” the study notes — pinpointing the reason why our work schedules may need revision in the future.

Rising temperatures will affect the ability of people to work across domains — from “light” labor (defined to include “services”), to “medium” labor (defined to include “manufacturing”), to “heavy” labor (defined to include “agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and construction industries”). However, the present study focused specifically on the impact of rising temperatures on “heavy” labor, which would be affected the most — especially since a significant amount of it involves spending time outdoors, away from air-conditioned chambers.

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“Many workers in the tropics are already stopping work in the afternoon because it’s too hot… Luckily, about 30% of this lost labor can still be recovered by moving it to the early morning,” Luke Parsons, a climate researcher at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, who was involved in the study, said in a statement. The idea of stopping work in the afternoon — for a siesta, perhaps — doesn’t seem like a terrible change to get used to.

“But with each additional degree of global warming, workers’ ability to adapt this way will swiftly decrease as even the coolest hours of the day quickly become too hot for continuous outdoor labor,” Parsons warned.

Unfortunately, this means we’re inching towards loss of labor, which could result in economic losses worth $1.6 trillion globally. In fact, the world is already losing between $280 to $311 billion every year “due to workers struggling in hot, humid conditions,” according to the researchers.

They explained that every rising degree of temperature would result in “exponential, not linear, losses in labor productivity.” Basically, with rising temperatures, the optimal working hours will eventually shrink.

Unfortunately, according to the study, India is particularly vulnerable to labor losses due to rising temperatures. “[W]e find that countries with large populations in South and East Asia experience the most work hours lost, both in the coolest hours… and in the full workday… with India showing the largest heat exposure impacts on heavy labor… despite its modest average per-capita labor losses — 162 lost hours [per] person [per] year,” the study notes.

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That’s not all. “Heat exposure is also implicated as a potential contributing factor to an epidemic of chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology in otherwise healthy, relatively young workers in [countries like] Sri Lanka [and] India,” the authors wrote.

They pointed out that besides kidney disease, extreme heat exposure can also increase the risk of workplace injuries and morbidity from heat-related illness. Moreover, poor sleep due to increasing heat can also damage people’s health, in addition to diminishing productivity.

“The impact of climate change is being felt and seen… To build adaptation, [we] need to plan short- and long-term measures changes in working hours [like] creating infrastructure facilities… to rest during peak day, and creating knowledge and skills [to help] when people succumb to heat stress,” G.V. Ramanjaneyulu, executive director at the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture in Hyderabad, told Hindustan Times.

Given how inter-dependent light, medium, and heavy work can be — especially from an economic perspective — there exists a likelihood of all of our work schedules being shifted. So, are you prepared for an overhaul of your work-life yet?


Written By Devrupa Rakshit

Devrupa Rakshit is an Associate Editor at The Swaddle. She is a lawyer by education, a poet by accident, a painter by shaukh, and autistic by birth. You can find her on Instagram @devruparakshit.


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