Science Says This Is Exactly How Much You Should Be Working for Your Mental Health

Hint: It's less than 40 but more than zero.

Recent research has shown that when companies cut back on the amount of hours their employees work, it tends to not only boost workers' happiness levels but it also actually increases their productivity. Now, a new study published in the journal Social Science and Medicine has identified the optimal number of work hours for your mental well-being. And it's certainly more than zero, but it's also far less than 40 hours per week.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge examined the effect of the amount of hours participants worked during the week on their mental health, including their quality of sleep and anxiety levels. After looking at 70,000 U.K. residents between the ages of 16 and 64 whose work hours shifted between 2009 and 2018, the scientists found that going from being unemployed or a being stay-at-home parent to working eight hours a week reduced the risk of mental health issues by 30 percent.

The researchers also found that men reported a 30 percent increase in life satisfaction when working the optimal eight hours. With women, it took 20 hours for them to report the same results.

"We know unemployment is often detrimental to people's well-being, negatively affecting identity, status, time use, and sense of collective purpose," Dr. Brendan Burchell, a University of Cambridge sociologist and co-author of the study, said in a press release. "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."

In light of growing concerns about the potential rise of unemployment due to advances in technology, Daiga Kamerāde, a study researcher from Salford University, said that though "big data and robotics replace much of the paid work currently done by humans … if there is not enough for everybody who wants to work full-time, we will have to rethink current norms."

She suggests the redistribution of working hours, so that everyone can reap the mental health benefits of having a job, "even if that means we all work much shorter weeks."

University of Cambridge sociologist and study co-author Senhu Wang said he believes that "the traditional model, in which everyone works around 40 hours a week, was never based on how much work was good for people." If society begins to focus on reducing work hours instead of increasing pay, he says, "the normal working week could be four days within a decade."

But if there's one thing that isn't likely to change, it's that quality is more important than quantity when it comes to professional satisfaction. "The quality of work will always be crucial," Wang said. "Jobs where employees are disrespected … do not provide the same benefits to well-being, nor are they likely to in the future."

And for more scientific research on how the modern workday affects our mental health, check out Why You Should Always Take All Of Your Vacation Days.

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Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more
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