Late Sleepers in Denmark Rally for Societal Change
A fast-growing group of people in Denmark who don't get along at all with the morning is lobbying employers and institutions to throw off the yoke of nine to five. They say the early-to-rise work model is outdated.
She's not being the most productive she can be
When Lars Johansen hears his alarm go off at 6 a.m., there's usually one thought that goes through his mind.
"I think, oh my God, I'm not going to make it," he said one recent morning in his home in Elsinore, a town about an hour north of Copenhagen probably
most famous as the setting for Shakespeare's Hamlet.
But make it he does, thanks to lots of strong coffee, and he is usually on time for his 7 a.m. work shift. But to him and a lot of other people who dislike the morning intensely, there is still something distinctly rotten in the state of Denmark. It is a societal routine that requires people to start work or school before their brains have really begun functioning.
"I just feel that our society has moved to a point where we're not so limited to time and space in your job," he said, still slightly bleary-eyed.
"So I think society and the services of society have to follow."
Sleeping employees don't do much for the company's bottom line
He has joined a group of like-minded compatriots who are lobbying for change. Called the "B-Society," the group was founded at the beginning of this year but already has around 3,000 members and has attracted a good deal of attention from the media, politicians and trade unions in Denmark.
To the Danes, morning haters are "B-people," while those who bound out of bed early, immediately ready to take on the world are dubbed "A-people."
Sleep researchers have found that between 10 and 15 percent of the population falls into the A category, while between 15 and 25 percent are
members of the B group. The rest are somewhere in between.
Different strokes for different folks
Founder Camilla Kring, an engineer by training whose PhD was on striking a balance between work and personal life, said although B-people outnumber A-people, the world is organized around early risers.
For those who can't get going before 10 or 11 a.m., or later, the first part of the work or school day can be a nightmare, or simply a drowsy blur, during which little is accomplished. As a B-person herself, she is used to the criticism she and others like her get generally involving the world "lazy."
"But really, us B-people are just as productive as other people, just at different times," she said.
Not lazy, just productive a little later in the day
Kring says the current model of starting work early in the morning harks back to an agricultural era. Then when the industrial age began, shift work on the factory floor became the norm. But farmers are a tiny minority in Denmark today, and much manufacturing in this high-wage country has moved overseas. As the Danish economy moves toward a more high-tech focus, her group wants to see working hours changed too.
"In Denmark we have a lot of discussions about becoming an innovation society," she said. "When you are working with your brain, it's not about
how many hours you work, it is about when are you most productive and when do you get ideas."
The B-Society is now compiling a list of companies it is calling "B-certified." To make the list, a business will have to show that it is willing to accommodate the needs of morning haters and allow them to work when they are at their best. The group is also planning B-certification for
institutions like day-care centers, schools, and even government offices which have thrown off the yoke of nine to five.
Stephen Alstrup remembers his own rhythm crashing into his school routine like he was hitting a brick wall. At exam time during his university
studies, he had to begin at 8 a.m. and had four hours to complete the test.
"Basically I was sitting there doing nothing for the first three hours," he said, while he waited for his synapses to start firing. By the time he came around, he usually had less than an hour to make up the time wasted sitting at the desk in a half-slumber.
When he founded his own company, Octoshape, he decided he would respect his employees' productivity patterns. One day recently at 11:30 a.m. during a reporter's visit, there was only one employee at his desk -- the staff's sole A-person. Alstrup said the others generally arrive at around 12:30 or one o'clock and work until 10:30 or 11 p.m.
Not a treat, a necessity for the later risers
For Alstrup, the late start brings several advantages: employees are at their desks when they are most mentally awake and they are more satisfied at work in general. He thinks the B-society's B-certification could be a powerful recruiting tool for employers since Denmark's low unemployment rate -- four percent -- has made competition for labor, especially for highly skilled professionals, very intense.
"I think if companies in Denmark say 'we have a good company for B-persons,' that will attract people out there," he said.
If the world began to expand from the nine to five straitjacket, the B-Society says, rush-hour gridlock might lessen, time spent waiting at
government offices or on hold on the telephone might become shorter and the overall stress level in a stressed-out society might come down a notch,
since people wouldn't have to rush to get to the bank before it closes at 5:30.
Alstrup says the morning is fine for some, but forcing everyone to get up at the crack of dawn is just an old habit that it is time to break.
"I mean, it just comes from an old tradition when we had to wake up with the animals," said Alstrup. "At Octoshape we don't have any animals, so it's really not needed."