Can Anyone Actually Afford To Work Three Days A Week?

A new research report has found a three-day working week translates to healthier and more productive employees, particularly in the over-40s demographic. Apparently, a part-time job provides the best balance between keeping the brain active and living a happy, stress-free existence. It sounds pretty great, but who can actually afford to only work three days a week? We analyse the statistics.

Happy worker image from Shutterstock

A new research report published by the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Business & Economics has found the cognitive performance of middle-aged people tends to decrease at the 25-hour mark in any given work week. The results, which analysed the working habits of 3000 men and 3500 women in Australia, suggests that most of us would be better employees if we only worked part time. As the paper explains:

“Our findings show that there is a non-linearity in the effect of working hours on cognitive functioning. For working hours up to around 25 hours a week, an increase in working hours has a positive impact on cognitive functioning. However, when working hours exceed 25 hours per week, an increase in working hours has a negative impact on cognition. Interestingly, there is no statistical difference in the effects of working hours on cognitive functioning between men and women.”

The report goes on to suggest that “too much work” can have adverse effects on cognitive functioning due to mounting fatigue and stress. Older adults are thus advised to restrict their working hours to 25–30 hours per week for a positive impact on cognition.

These findings will be sure to please plenty of employers in Australia. Over the past few years, employment trends have been shifting towards a part-time workforce. Approximately 11.9 million Australians are currently employed, which is the largest number on record. However, just 8.2 million of these workers are employed full-time, which is the lowest level on record. You do the math.

Personally, we think there are a few notable flaws in this report, not the least of which is living expenses in Australia. While some older Australians can doubtlessly afford to reduce their working hours, the majority simpy lack the required affluence.

According to the Australian Bureau Of Statistics (ABS), the average weekly wage in Australia is $1136. To simplify matters, let’s call that the median — we strongly doubt that many Australians on the wrong side of $1136 a week could afford to live comfortably after slashing their income by more than a third. Older Aussies who don’t own their own home would find it extremely difficult.

We imagine it’s also a tough sell for most high-income earners. Ironically, those who make enough money to pull this off usually have too many managerial responsibilities and projects in the pipeline to even think about reducing their work hours.

Even if employers were open to the idea, the reduction in salary and job security would almost certainly cause a spike in stress, leading to unhappy and distracted workers. We’d basically be back at square one.

You can check out the full report below.

The Effect of Working Hours on Cognitive Ability [Melbourne Institute Working Paper Series]

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