A new study shows working less could be better for us in the future.
Working one day a week boosts mental well being, but working more than one day makes little difference, according to a new study which advocates the benefits of a shorter working week.
The Cambridge University study examined how changes in working hours were linked to mental health and life satisfaction in over 70,000 UK residents between 2009 and 2018.
Published in the journal Social Science and Medicine, it shows that when people moved from unemployment or stay-at-home parenting into paid work of eight hours or less a week, their risk of mental health problems reduced by an average of 30%.
However, there was no evidence that working any more than eight hours was any better for wellbeing.
Co-author Dr Brendan Burchell, who leads the Employment Dosage research project, said: “We know unemployment is often detrimental to people’s wellbeing, negatively affecting identity, status, time use, and sense of collective purpose. We now have some idea of just how much paid work is needed to get the psychosocial benefits of employment — and it’s not that much at all.”
The researchers say the study is important in the light of the potential reduction of jobs for humans in a future of automation. They suggest this may mean a redistribution of working hours so everyone works shorter weeks but get the mental health benefits of work.
The team suggests the reduced working week could include “five-day weekends,” working just a couple of hours a day, or increasing annual holiday from weeks to months — even having two months off for every month at work.
They also say that working hour reduction and redistribution could improve work-life balance, increase productivity and improve the environment by reducing CO2 emissions from commuting. However, they warn that reductions would need to be for everyone so that a two-tier system did not open up, increasing inequality, and that job quality is vital.