The term "business hours" refers to the "open" and "closed" schedule that a business determines for its operations. Small and large businesses adhere to a wide range of business hours depending on such factors as customer expectations, technology, and seasonal fluctuations in business. The rise in online shopping has expanded the concept to "24/7," as we now say. To some extent in response to Internet pressure and expanding hours worked by the public, a relatively recent development has been the growth in businesses that have expanded their hours. As George Russell observed in the Fairfield County Business Journal, "The business community is not in a 24/7 work mode—yet—but we're no longer in a 9 to 5, Monday through Friday world. Business owners and their employees work past dinner-time, on weekends and often into the early hours of the morning. And more—much more—pre-9 a.m. and post-5 p.m. working hours are in our immediate futures." As this observation illustrates, the issue of business hours has two aspects: the time during which a business is open—and the amount of time employees must work.
Principal Determinants of Business Hours
Business owners point to several factors important in determining what hours their business will be open. The nature of the business is the principal driving force. A nightclub will be open when bakeries are shut. The last young people leaving as the nightclub closes may be present, however, as the breakfast-serving bagel-shop turns on its lights. Companies serving other businesses will match their hours to the customer's. The continuing and still growing participation by women in the workforce has greatly contributed to the expansion of retail hours as women have shifted shopping from daytime hours to the night.
Among many and continuously dynamic factors that impact working hours are the following:
- Non-traditional lifestyles—Increasing numbers of customers, and especially retail customers, keep non-traditional work hours themselves as mentioned above. Some work overtime, while others are employed on a part-time basis or work two or even three jobs to support their families. These potential customers will likely be lost to stores that do not keep extended hours. Moreover, some consumers simply prefer to shop late at night to avoid long checkout lines and hassles associated with busy aisleways and parking lots.
- Seasonal considerations—Some businesses are highly seasonal in nature. Retail establishments based in regions that are highly dependent on tourist dollars, for example, often scale back their hours (or even close entirely) during the off-season.
- Technology—The emergence of e-mail, fax machines, cellular phones, and other trappings of the modern business world has accelerated the pace of the entire commercial environment in the U.S. and around the world, in part because they have made it so easy for people and businesses to communicate with one another, no matter the time of day.
- Competitive pressures—Analysts point out that simple economics have played a large part in the surge in expanded business hours for many companies. "The ceaseless search for efficiencies and the high cost of adding capacity are compelling many small companies to squeeze more out of existing facilities by adding second and third shifts," said Dale Buss in a Nation's Business article entitled "A Wake-Up Call for Companies."
Members of the business community agree that for many companies, hours of operation are likely to continue to expand, as demands for convenience on the part of both individual and corporate customers do not appear likely to abate any time soon. But small business owners should make sure that they lay the appropriate groundwork for an expansion of operating hours before committing to it. Thorny issues will almost inevitably crop up, whether they take the form of logistical worries about restocking shelves in the presence of customers or difficulties in finding employees to work that fledgling second shift. But the business owner who takes the time to study these issues in advance will be much better equipped to handle them in an effective fashion than the owner who tackles each issue as it rears its head.
A corollary to expanding business hours has been the rise in "flex time," a policy that permits employees to set their own hours of work within certain limits. Flex time tends to increase in times of economic expansion and to contract in times of high unemployment. "Across all industries," reported Celeste Ward recently in ADWEEK, "the use of flex time has dropped in the past several years, as workers are more skittish about asking for it and fewer companies are offering it. According to a July  report from the Department of Labor, the number of full-time workers age 16 and older who are on flexible schedules dropped from 29 million in May 2001 to 27.4 million in 2004. And the proportion of companies that offer flex time fell from 64 percent in 2002 to 56 percent this year, according to the Society for Human Resource Management." George Russell's complaint about "more—much more" work is therefore on target. In the current environment, economic and competitive conditions are increasing the hours—and decreasing the worker's flexibility.
Buss, Dale D. "A Wake-Up Call for Companies." Nation's Business. March 1998.
Russell, George. "24/7 Workweek Hovers on Horizon." Fairfield County Business Journal. 27 December 2004.
Stewart, Thomas A. "It's 10 p.m. Do You Know Where Your Business Is?" Fortune. 3 April 2000.
"24-Hour Businesses Have Unique Practices." HR Focus. October 1999.
Ward, Celeste. "Make Your Own Hours: How some staffers bend the work week with flex time." ADWEEK. 19 September 2005.
Weeks, Linton. "In U.S., Nighttime is the Right Time: 24-Hour Businesses are Making Odd Hours Ideal for Doing Errands." Washington Post. 20 July 1997.
Hillstrom, Northern Lights
updated by Magee, ECDI