Just one day of work per week is the most “effective dose” to promote the mental health benefits of paid employment, say researchers from Cambridge University and the University of Salford.
Their study, published in Social Science & Medicine, found that the risk of mental ill-health was reduced by 30 per cent when people moved from unemployment or stay-at-home parenting into paid work of eight hours or less per week. But there was no evidence that working more than eight hours boosted wellbeing any further.
The researchers used data from a panel survey of 71,113 individuals across the UK between 2009 and 2018 to examine the link between changes in working hours, mental health and life satisfaction. They did this in the context of the rise in automation at work, which may require shorter hours and a redistribution of work for employees as artificial intelligence and robots will perform the majority of tasks in the workplace.
Dr Brendan Burchell, co-author of the study and a sociologist from Cambridge University, says: “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.”