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The 4-Day Working Week: Protecting Mental Health

TW: This article discusses topics of mental health which may be distressing to some readers.

The nitty gritty of mental health

Although Mental Health seems like a new-ish and modern concept, the simple fact is that it has always existed but it hasn't always been regarded in the same way. Only in the recent 50 - 100 years have mental illnesses been properly diagnosed and treated, as previously, patients were punished and isolated from society. Mental illnesses were considered in a much more negative way that seemed to blame the patient and, in many cases, people didn't believe they had anything wrong with them.

This is certainly not the case. Mental health is equally as important as physical health. The World Health Organisation defines Mental Health as:

Mental Health is an integral part of health; indeed, there is no health without mental health.
Mental health is more than just the absence of mental disorders or disabilities.
Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.

These definitions clearly show that mental health is prominent and of utmost importance, so why shouldn't we, as a society, be making every effort to work for mental health in day-to-day life?

A working relationship

Public Health England stated that there are 14.3 million absences from work every year due to stress, anxiety and depression, and that 1/3 of employees with a long-term health condition have not discussed it with their employer. The sheer impact that stress from working life can have on an individual and society as a whole is enormous, and is in fact, the largest causer and most common type of stress in the UK - Statista, 2022.

As adults, most of our lives are spent at work... gloomy, but true. For many, life is just their work, and any spare time around this is an add on, a bonus and not the focal meaning of life. Even those who enjoy their work can be caused stress due to the simple fact that this is where the majority of their time is spent, as well as how much of their mind it occupies.

This is an age-old problem, but that in itself says enough! For centuries, work has caused, or been a key contributing factor in stress and mental illness, so it is about time that something changes to protect ourselves and our society. Something so small, yet so drastic... like taking one day off the working week.

The 4-day working week

A trial involving 70 UK companies and 3000 people begun in June 2022 that saw the implementation of a 4-day working week, where employees worked for 80% of their usual hours but still earned 100% pay. This arose after the pandemic, with people struggling to recover and stress from long hours and the stresses of daily life, therefore the proposed solution is to reduce the working week to allow for social, economic and climate benefits.

96% of the participants said they wanted to continue the 4 day working week, over 2/3 said they felt less burned out and there was a significant reduction in fatigue and sleep problems. There was also increased levels of exercise and feelings of satisfaction with life compared to before the trial.

The conclusion of the trial recommends that it is time to retire the outdated and conventional 40 hour working week as a solution to many of the issues faced by society. (4DayWeek, 2023).

Food for thought...

As a student myself, nearing the time to begin my career in full-swing, I believe that I would benefit from the 4-day working week and I think my peers and fellow students would agree. It may be said that Generation Z are lazy, impatient and not as hard working as the generations before us, but let it be known that our generation is the most likely to suffer with mental disorders and at a more severe level.

Young professionals are in the age of social media and keeping up with the ever-changing environment at the same time that roots are meant to be planted and plans are meant to be in place for the future. The digital age is evolving faster than we can, unless there are significant changes made to adapt and overcome the hurdles. Just as individuals have been expected to learn the tough ways of working life and adulthood for as long as we know, maybe now is the time that society can change instead.

Mental health is not something we can ignore whilst everything else is so rapidly changing. If the 4-day working week was to become the new norm, the worst-case scenario is that we just revert back to old ways... the best-case scenario is that we make ground-breaking changes for the health and happiness of everyone.


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