Why Experts Suggest Shorter Work Weeks Are The Key To Better Mental Health

While the idea of moving away from a 5-day work week has been around for a number of years, it is now officially being put into practice. Belgium has passed legislation allowing employees to work 38 hours over 4 days, providing them with a 3-day weekend.

However, 10-hour workdays may not be appealing to everyone. "There's no magic to working 4 days a week instead of 5," Jonathan Malesic, author of "The End of Burnout: Why Work Drains Us and How to Build Better Lives," told Healthline. "I think it's the number of hours that play a bigger role." Those who are in favor of the new rules believe this will provide employees with more flexibility and a healthier work-life balance.

Shorter hours rather than the number of days was the focus of a study in Iceland between 2015-19. The country conducted a trial run involving 2,500 people who worked between 35-36-hour weeks with no reduction in salary. The results were what you might expect: employees reported less burnout and stress, and better health. Other countries have followed with test runs of their own, including the United States, which is currently considering legislation that would reduce the 40-hour workweek to 32 hours nationwide (via Healthline).

Fewer hours at work may give you a mental boost

Shorter hours do not mean workers will be less productive. In fact, the Iceland study showed that productivity remained the same or improved among the participants. Experts believe this is because working fewer hours gives your mental health a boost in ways that transfer into the workplace.

A Swedish study that followed social workers for over a decade supports this opinion. Data published in the peer-reviewed journal International Social Work in 2015 suggested that working fewer hours improved sleep quality and reduced negative emotions and stress.

While data points to fewer work hours having a positive effect, experts say that there could be accompanying challenges with the model. These include practical issues, such as employees who need to work together being off on different days. They also warn that when you are not at work, you may have trouble setting boundaries with your employer. "For example, what are the hours of work and what will be the expectations for responding to emails or messages outside of that time?" Nellie Brown, director of Workplace Health and Safety Programs for the Worker Institute at Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations, asked Healthline.

Despite these challenges, experts say now may be the time to give shorter workweeks a try, as more people are open to the idea (via BBC).