How much do you really need to work, anyway? To pay your bills, about five days a week. But for the mental boost that feeling useful and being part of a team that work brings, about one, says a new study from the universities of Cambridge and Salford. Researchers are touting one day of paid work a week as the most effective “dose.”
“We have effective dosage guides for everything from Vitamin C to hours of sleep in order to help us feel better, but this is the first time the question has been asked of paid work,” said study co-author Dr. Brendan Burchell, a sociologist from Cambridge University who leads the Employment Dosage research Project, in a release.
“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.”
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The study looked at how changes in working hours affected mental well-being and overall life satisfaction in over 70,000 UK residents between the ages of 16-64 using data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study between 2009 and 2018. Participants were asked about issues ranging from anxiety and sleep disturbances to determine mental health.
They found a 30% reduction in risk of mental health problems in men when they moved from unemployment or stay-at-home parenting of eight hours or less of paid work. Women didn’t see a similar reduction until they worked 20 hours, however.
In a world where the specter of AI decimating jobs looms and unemployment is still a problem, Dr. Daiga Kamerade, study author from Salford University and Employment Dosage researcher, says, “If there is not enough for everybody who wants to work full-time, we will have to rethink current norms. This should include the redistribution of working hours, so everyone can get the mental health benefits of a job, even if that means we all work much shorter weeks.”
“Our findings are an important step in thinking what the minimum amount of paid work people might need in a future with little work to go round,” she added.
Researchers suggested creative options for a future with less work, including “five-day weekends,” working just two hours a day, working one month for every two off, and increasing annual holidays from weeks to months.
“The traditional model, in which everyone works around 40 hours a week, was never based on how much work was good for people,” said study co-author and Cambridge sociologist Senhu Wang. “Our research suggests that micro-jobs provide the same psychological benefits as full-time jobs.”