Tim Ferriss might have coined the four-hour week week, but it seems researchers are now backing a three-day work week for those aged over 40-years-old. In a recent study, it was found that three days was the optimal number for those in their 40s to work in order to perform at their best, with researchers analysing the working habits and brain test results of close to 3,000 men and 3,500 women aged over 40 in Australia. The results found that part-time jobs are most effective at keeping the brain stimulated, while avoiding stress and exhaustion.
If the global coronavirus pandemic taught us anything, it was perhaps that as we currently exist, there’s no such thing as a work-life balance, or if there is, we haven’t quite perfected the craft. At a time where the phrase “too busy” is worn like a badge of honour, our working lives have bled into what should be our personal life. The 9-5 job is no more, replaced by a model of work which sees us constantly plugged in, checking emails in the early hours of the morning and late at night, taking calls, meetings and now Zoom conferences at any hour of day.
As many of us grappled with the uncertainty of the pandemic, it became clear that such fast-paced, busy lives weren’t sustainable and now, a great number are looking to cut back on their hours, making this study particularly poignant particularly as countries around the world begin to reach the retirement age.
Data from the study was drawn from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey, which was conducted by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economics and Social Research at the University of Melbourne. By analysing people’s economic and subjective well-being, family structures and employment, it was found that those participants who worked about 25 hours a week tended to achieve the best scores when asked to read words aloud, recite lists of numbers backwards, and to match letters and numbers under time pressure.
As the report suggests, “Work can be a double-edged sword, in that it can stimulate brain activity, but at the same time, long working hours and certain types of tasks can cause fatigue and stress which potentially damage cognitive functions.”
According to one of the researchers, Colin McKenzie of Keio University, working extremely long hours can be more damaging than not working at all when it comes to brain function, with the study finding those working 60 hours a week can have lower cognitive ability than those who are unemployed.
As Geraint Johnes, professor of economics at Lancaster University Management School explains though, the researcher only looks at those over 40-years-old, and so it can’t make the claim that over 40s are different from any other workers. “What the authors find is that cognitive functioning improves up to the point at which workers work 25 hours a week and declines thereafter.”
Johnes added, “Actually, at first the decline is very marginal, and there is not much of an effect as working Horus rise to 35 hours per week. Beyond 40 hours per week, the decline is much more rapid.”