Work can be the key to happiness – if you don’t do too much of it, according to a Cambridge University study.
Academics found that those who had lost their jobs were more likely to experience mental health problems.
But the happiest of the 5,000 people in the survey were part-time employees doing one or two days a week.
Academics found that those who had lost their jobs were more likely to experience mental health problems (file photo)
‘It was an unexpected finding because we had assumed that the maximum levels of wellbeing would be among those working three or four days a week,’ said Brendan Burchell, who led the research.
The social scientist said growing numbers of workers wanted to cut their hours and he was helping firms deal with the change.
He added: ‘Why do we think working 40 hours a week is normal? At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution people were working 100-hour weeks but in the UK that stopped decades ago.’
Professor Burchell, who has switched to three days a week, said new working habits could also free women from doing ‘the vast majority of cooking, cleaning and childcare’ by giving men more time to help out around the house.
Mental health and happiness ‘really deteriorate’ once people start working less than a day per week, according to the team’s earlier research.
The findings were presented to Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, and may have persuaded him to extend furlough to part time workers – to boost national morale – and not just those who were completely off work
But in this latest study, the scientists found that working just one day a week is enough to provide the mental wellbeing and happiness benefits that employment can offer.
The findings were presented to Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, and may have persuaded him to extend furlough to part time workers – to boost national morale – and not just those who were completely off work.
Professor Burchell added: ‘We gave a strong steer to allow people to carry on some working, which was good for their mental health. The one labour market error the Treasury made early on was to go for a rigid ‘all or nothing’ furlough. They then changed that for a more flexible scheme.’
Working less may also help to save jobs as Britain emerges from lockdown, and could even be a watershed moment where ‘the traditional 40-hour week finally changes,’ the professor said, adding: ‘really keen, bright people want to work less than a five-day week.’
He is already helping companies to shift to shorter working weeks in the long term.