Should we work a 4-day week?

Mental Health and Relationships Are The Key To Happiness

The Guardian has recently put a focus on the millions of Britons who feel overstretched, struggling to balance work and family commitments, while others are underutilised, unemployed or underemployed. Onebright’s Director of Clinical Services and Senior CBT Therapist, Tanya Woolf, shares her views.

The health and social impacts of the culture of working too hard: how we can better balance our longevity with our longer careers, and is there a better way?

The UK is known to be an environment where the culture is to work excessive hours. We see it in health settings, legal ones and financial ones, to name but a few. If you ask people why they work such long hours, they will cite excessive, competing and/or unrealistic deadlines, too few resources (mainly referring to too few members of staff) and the drive for greater profitability or to manage reduced/cut budgets.

Trialling the four-day workweek in the UK

In June 2022, companies and businesses across the UK began trials for a four-day working week with no reduction in employee pay. This action was taken to help employees who may be heading towards burnout as they balance their personal and professional lives and to boost overall productivity and morale. Currently, full-time employees in the UK work two and a half weeks more a year than the average in Europe.

With 60% of CEOs in the UK concerned about the mental well-being of their staff, a shorter week with longer workdays is one way to improve quality of life without compromising productivity. Should more companies consider a flexible working model that offers the 4-day week as an option to employees, and what impact could this have on workplace mental wellbeing?

Based in the City of London, we see many people presenting with stress, anxiety and depression as a result of these sorts of internal and external pressures. In my own clinical caseload over the years, I have seen a raft of entrepreneurs, lawyers, financial analysts and investment managers who were working 60-80 hours or more weeks routinely, week in, week out.

And what does all this work result in?

  1. Poor health outcomes for the people doing this work – physically and mentally
  2. Poor performance due to sick leave and presenteeism – showing up for work but performing at a poor level or barely at all
  3. Poor outcomes to the work

What of the genuine external pressures?

Managers and clients may persuade employees to work excessively or pressure them to do so. By combining a person’s willingness to help and their internal drive to deliver work that meets their high expectations, you have a “perfect storm” where they are driven to work excessively.

Organisations that pressure staff excessively due to a combination of over-controlling management, excessive focus on profits/cuts or their fear of losing business can all affect the psychological well-being of people throughout the workplace. These work environments have high turnover rates and work-related stress, which is ultimately unsustainable for long-term success.

What are signs that people are overwhelmed at work?

There have been many studies over recent decades on the impact of excessive work on people’s performance. They show consistently that performance drops off a cliff once a person has worked in the region of 8-10 hours. Fatigue means we slow down, we make more mistakes, and our concentration goes, so we have to keep checking our work, and we end up taking 2 hours to do something that should only take 30 minutes.

The key to improving our health and our work performance is not working to excess and focusing on tasks that matter most – scheduling and prioritising. Among my clients described above, many have reduced their working week using CBT by as much as 15-25 hours. They have been amazed to discover that, contrary to their expectations, this improved their productivity as well as performance.

The next step is for organisations to instil cultures and practices to reflect that approach. We don’t necessarily need to reduce to 4 days a week but certainly reducing to 35-45 hours per week should improve staff health and wellbeing, productivity and performance. This will ironically likely increase organisation profitability due to better performance and productivity among staff.

What does long-term work pressure result in?

40% of people in a recent Deloitte survey said their mental health worsened in the pandemic, and 28% resigned in 2021 or planned to resign in 2022. The pressures of strenuous working hours can contribute to poor health outcomes for people, overall workplace well-being and work satisfaction. The pressures can also result in poor performance due to sick leave and presenteeism – showing up for work but performing at an unsatisfactory level or barely at all. It can also lead to poor quality of the work itself.

There have been many studies over recent decades on the impact of excessive work on people’s performance. They show consistently that performance drops dramatically once a person has worked 8-10 hours regularly. Fatigue means performance slows down, and there is a greater chance that more mistakes are made. Concentration levels can diminish, so they may have to keep checking their work, so something that generally only takes 30 minutes has turned into a two-hour task.

Taking Steps to improve productivity at Work

The key to improving health and work performance is not working to excess and focusing on tasks that matter most, but rather scheduling and prioritising.

Onebright’s mental health training for line managers empowers people to begin conversations surrounding workplace mental health with more confidence and compassion. Whether you’re considering a 4-day working week for your organisation or not, employers who are dedicated to understanding workplace mental health are in a better position to reduce the stigma of mental health and, in turn, can work towards improving productivity as well as the performance of employees.

CBT for managing employee wellbeing

CBT can help treat issues related to perfectionism, including the fear of failure and associating self-worth with performance. It does this by replacing flawed beliefs with more realistic ones. It’s highly structured, aiming to find solutions to problems in a short time frame and helps employees break down problems into manageable chunks, which are dealt with in steps.

Just a few years ago, it would have been hard to imagine the far-reaching societal impacts and shifts that have happened in the wake of the pandemic. A re-evaluation of what’s important in life was a common side effect. And for many people, that included examining the balance—or lack thereof—between working life and personal life. Countless trials and studies have proven that the 4-day workweek benefits employee mental health, and now businesses need to consider offering employee benefits that reflect society’s changing priorities.

Onebright consists of the UK’s leading mental health experts. They offer people and organisations quality care that improves lives by delivering clinically-led training programs and therapies. Contact us today using the form below for more information

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