Working eight hours a week is the "recommended dose" for optimal mental well-being, say British scientists.
In a study published on Tuesday, researchers from the University of Cambridge and the University of Salford set out to find a work sample that would be of great benefit to the mental health of employees. It was conducted on the premise that increasing automation would force companies to reconsider existing working time standards.
The project examined the relationship between working time, mental health and life satisfaction among more than 71,000 working-age people in the UK over a nine-year period. Participants were asked about subjects such as anxiety and sleep disorders to assess the state of their mental health.
In order to achieve optimal mental health, the "most effective dose", according to scientists, was about one day a week.
They found that those who moved from unemployment or parenting at home to paid work of up to eight hours a week could reduce their risk of mental health problems by an average of 30%.
If they do not work longer than eight hours a week, unless otherwise stated, additional mental health gains, the report says.
"Full-time work was not the optimal category because it did not differ significantly from any other category in terms of mental health and well-being," the report said.
While the Benefit of Employment for Mental Health Peaked at Eight Working Hours The relationship between working time and life satisfaction was slightly different.
Male life satisfaction increased by one-third with up to eight hours of paid work per week, but women did not report a similar increase in life satisfaction until their workweek reached 20 hours.
The authors of the study suggested that workweeks should be drastically reduced so that all working-age people can benefit from the employment-related benefits of mental health so that the work available can be redistributed and shared.
"Most policy options to combat a possible increase in unemployment have focused on measures such as a universal basic income to provide economic support to people without employment," the authors said. "Our findings support an alternative, more radical, theoretical perspective ̵
Their proposals to do so included five-day weekends that worked just a few hours a day, increasing weekly to monthly vacation pay or two months' leave every month they work.
They also noted that a reduction in working hours should be made available to all to avoid increasing socio-economic inequalities.
To improve work-life balance, scientists argued that cutting working hours would increase productivity and help reduce carbon dioxide emissions from commuting.
"If the UK converted annual productivity gains into shorter working hours rather than salary increases, the normal working week could be four days within a decade," said Cambridge University sociologist Brendan Burchell, who led the research project.
Paul Gionfriddo According to Mental Health America's CEO, companies need to take responsibility for the well-being of their employees and find that stress at work often causes people outside work to behave unhealthily.
"This study shows that the best use of the work is achieved after eight hours – (afterwards) it is up to employers to create a workplace that promotes mental wellbeing," he told CNBC by phone. "It's hard to get a sense of productivity without work, but in a similar way, you will not benefit if you do all the work and not the game."
Tej Parikh, chief economist at the UK Institute of Directors, told CNBC via e-mail that business leaders are increasingly looking for flexible working methods in the face of technological advances.
"This study emphasizes that work is often not just about payroll – it can also have a positive impact on mental wellbeing," he said.
Emma Mamo, head of Workplace Wellbeing at British charity Mind, told CNBC that they must work to align themselves with each other's abilities.
"Factors such as debt, unemployment and problems with (social assistance) can be associated with poor mental health," she said. "The nature of the work is also important – it must be tailored to a person's individual needs, abilities and aspirations."