Study reveals how many days of work each week is key to happiness

Lauren Clark
·2-min read
Researchers looked at 5,000 people's employment routines during the pandemic. (Getty Images)
Researchers looked at 5,000 people's employment routines during the pandemic. (Getty Images)

The past year has had a huge impact on what our jobs will look like in the future – with discussions centring around whether swapping home for a whole-scale return to the office is always necessary.

But research has shed light on another aspect of flexible working, suggesting that a traditional five-day week is not conducive to optimum wellbeing.

A study by Cambridge University found that those who worked just one day a week were happiest.

The researchers looked at the employment routines of 5,000 people during the past year – a period when large numbers found themselves made redundant or furloughed.

Read more: Dad made redundant due to coronavirus puts giant CV on lorry and lands new job

They discovered that those who had lost their jobs were most likely to be unhappy, followed by those working full-time.

However, those who were happiest had been working part-time, or had been furloughed but were still working one day a week.

Lead researcher Brendan Burchell, professor in social sciences, told The Sunday Times: “It was an unexpected finding because we had assumed that the maximum levels of wellbeing would be among those working three or four days a week.”

Previous research had showed that mental health and happiness are negatively impacted if you work less than one day a week, but the latest findings suggest that working one day a week provides "the benefits of employment in terms of mental wellbeing and happiness".

Read more: New statistics reveal just how hard the coronavirus pandemic has hit working parents

The Cambridge team's research inspired chancellor Rishi Sunak to tweak the furlough scheme so people could work part-time and still receive some government funding.

Burchell, who has himself gone part-time, suggested that reducing the traditional 40-hour working week could help remedy gender imbalances in the home by giving men the "time to help women out more" with the cooking, cleaning and childcare.

It comes after research, published after the first lockdown last year, revealed how coronavirus had had a significant impact on working parents – particularly women.

The findings by charity Pregnant Then Screwed showed that 46% of mothers who had been made redundant – or expected to be – reported that a lack of childcare had played a role.

The survey, of 19,950 mothers and pregnant women, also revealed that 72% of mums were forced to work fewer hours because of childcare issues.