News: Coming of the one day week

11 Jun|Tom Hodgkinson

A depressing ad from work-obsessed Silicon Valley

Eight hours a week is enough for wellbeing, say researchers at Cambridge University

In 1930 Maynard Keynes published a brilliant essay called “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren”. It is an important piece in the Idler canon because he predicts that by 2030 the working week, thanks to increased automation, would have dwindled to around 15 hours. “For three hours a day is quite enough to satisfy the old Adam in most of us!” he wrote, confounding those crazy Tories who believe that hard work and long, long hours are somehow morally improving.

New research suggests that Keynes was slightly off, and that in fact eight hours a week would be sufficient to please our inner toiler. The project was led by Cambridge sociologist Dr Brendan Burchell, who will be speaking on this subject at the Idler Festival in July 2019.

The study, published in the journal Social Science and Medicine, shows that when people moved from zero hours a week of work into paid work of eight hours or less a week, their risk of mental health problems reduced by an average of 30%.

But more work made no difference. Researchers examined over 71,000 people over a nine year period and found no evidence that working any more than eight hours provided further boosts to happiness levels.

That is a pleasing result as far as an idle future goes. The researchers said they looked forward to a less work-based life.

“The traditional model, in which everyone works around 40 hours a week, was never based on how much work was good for people. Our research suggests that micro-jobs provide the same psychological benefits as full-time jobs,” said co-author and Cambridge sociologist Senhu Wang.

Dr Burchell added: “If the UK were to plough annual productivity gains into reduced working hours rather than pay rises, the normal working week could be four days within a decade.”

Brendan Burchell will be discussing this report on Sunday 14 July at the Idler Festival 2019.