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The European tradition of siesta: increased productivity or logistical nightmare?

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The European tradition of siesta, a midday rest or nap, has been an integral part of many cultures across the continent for centuries. This cherished practice is deeply rooted in the Mediterranean region, particularly in countries such as Spain, Italy, Greece, and Portugal. The siesta has not only shaped the cultural identity of these nations but has also had a significant impact on the average working day and the overall well-being of people.

The term “siesta” comes from the Latin word “sexta,” which means the sixth hour of the day. Historically, the practice of taking a midday rest emerged as a way to avoid the hottest hours of the day during the scorching Mediterranean summers. As early as the ancient Roman and Greek civilizations, people recognized the benefits of escaping the intense heat and retreating to the cool comforts of their homes for a cool relief. Over time, this tradition evolved into a cultural norm and an integral part of the daily routine in many European countries.

The traditional siesta schedule typically involves a long lunch break, ranging from one to three hours, during which businesses, schools, and other institutions shut down. This extended break allows workers to spend quality time with their families, enjoy leisure activities, or even take a short nap to recharge their batteries. This may seem like a bad idea, especially for those who are used to the typical 9 to 5 schedule. But let’s look at the advantages of a siesta:

  1. Enhanced productivity and alertness: taking a midday break allows employees to return to work with renewed focus and mental clarity, especially if they chose to have a power nap. Research suggests that short naps during the day can significantly improve cognitive functions, memory, and problem-solving skills, leading to better productivity in the afternoon and evening.
  2. Work-life balance: the siesta culture promotes a healthier work-life balance, as it encourages people to prioritize personal well-being and family time. This balance contributes to reduced stress levels and higher job satisfaction.
  3. Cultural bonding: the shared practice of siesta promotes a sense of community and cultural bonding among European societies. During the siesta, families and friends often gather for meals, engaging in meaningful social interactions that strengthen relationships and create a sense of unity.

Despite its benefits, the tradition of siesta faces challenges in today’s fast-paced world. The globalised economy and increasing international business interactions have prompted some European countries to modify their siesta practices to align with international work hours. As a result, the siesta has become less prevalent in urban areas, with businesses operating continuously throughout the day.

Additionally, the rise of technology and digital communication has blurred the lines between work and personal life, reducing the effectiveness of the siesta. Many employees find it challenging to disconnect from work completely, some fail to take a short break, let alone a three hour one to have a nap.

While siestas may have worked wonders in countries with hot Mediterranean climates, bringing that tradition to the UK might not be the best idea. It’s not exactly scorching like those places. In other words, there is no extreme heat to escape from. Besides, our winter days are pretty short, and taking a siesta could mess up our work schedule. So, despite the advantages of a longer break, here are some reasons why siesta is highly unlikely to ever reach the UK:

  1. Childcare duties: some working parents are already struggling to pick up their kids from school. If their working hours changed to have a siesta, their finishing time would be way too late to pick up children from school. You could try introducing siesta in schools, but then that doubles the school runs.
  2. Transport: the idea of siesta may work for those who live a stone’s throw away from their office, but commuting to and from work twice a day may be unrealistic for most- regardless if it’s driving (and increasing the traffic) or public transport.
  3. Environmental impact: any additional trips to and from the workplace have a negative impact on the environment, too.
  4. Business responsiveness: the 24/7 nature of our global economy means that businesses need to stay connected and responsive around the clock. Many companies have international clients and partners in different time zones, so taking a long siesta break could lead to missed opportunities, delays, and communication gaps.
  5. Nature of business and public sector: certain industries and services can’t afford to take a long break in the middle of the day. Healthcare workers, emergency services, and public transportation operators, among others, need to be available and on duty throughout the day to ensure the safety and well-being of the public.

Ultimately, while the siesta is a cherished tradition in some parts of the world, its practicality in the UK would be questionable at best. It’s essential to find work-life balance solutions that cater to our specific needs and realities, ensuring that we can rest and recharge without compromising the smooth functioning of our daily lives and the economy.