Name: The secret of happiness.Age: Older than I look. I put my youthfulness down to my working regime.
Appearance: Very occasional.
I thought you looked unfamiliar. Yes, I’m here on Mondays only.
How come? Because I work only one day a week, which, according to researchers at the University of Cambridge, is the secret of happiness.
Sounds ridiculous. Apparently not. They have been tracking people in lockdown and discovered that the happiest people are those who work just one or two days a week. A minimal presence gives you just as much satisfaction as the traditional five-day week, while working one day a week provides a huge mental health boost compared with not working at all.
Who did the research? Prof Brendan Burchell, the head of the university’s “employment dosage” project, led the team.
Hard-working chap? He punishes himself with a three-day week. His research during lockdown backs up a large-scale study from 2019 in which he was involved, the key finding of which was that, in terms of mental wellbeing, the most “effective dose” of paid work was a day a week. Anything more than that made virtually no difference.
So much for the 40-hour week. “The traditional model, in which everyone works around 40 hours a week, was never based on how much work was good for people,” says Senhu Wang, one of the co-authors of the original report. “Our research suggests micro-jobs provide the same psychological benefits as full-time jobs.”
We have been conned. That is very much Burchell’s view. “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.”
Sounds like pie in the sky – something that may work in Cambridge, but won’t mean much to minimum-wage workers in Coventry. There is a supposition underpinning the research, which is that artificial intelligence is going to absorb a lot of our jobs. With less human work to go around, it will have to be shared out. Spain, Germany and New Zealand are already trialling a four-day working week and Burchell reckons we can expect further reductions.
Would we get paid as much for working one day a week as we do for five? The unspoken assumption is that some form of universal basic income would supplement our paid work – something not unlike the furlough scheme, which has been made more flexible with input from the Cambridge team. The socioeconomic revolution starts here.
But I like working 80 hours a week! Don’t be absurd. Go for a nice, long walk.
Not to be confused with: Pointless and unproductive presenteeism.
Don’t say: “People have been banging on for years about robots taking over human work, and it never happens. For many in the real world, the working week just gets longer and longer.”
Do say: “See you at the same time next week?”