The UK government has recently been asked to consider a four-day working week to help the economy after lockdown. A four-day week, it’s suggested, would help boost the economy and job creation. However above and beyond this, more acceptance of a four day week could have a hugely positive impact on many people’s mental health.
Our collective mental health has suffered enormously during lockdown. According to Mind, more than one in five adults with no previous experience of mental health issues say that their mental health is now poor. Meanwhile research from Bupa found that eight out of ten of us experienced symptoms of poor mental health in lockdown.
As we begin to adjust to life after lockdown, two key areas need rebuilding – the economy, and our mental health. Collectively we face a huge job over the coming months and years to support each other as we recover both economically and personally.
Improving our mental health and overall wellbeing
Lockdown provided many people with a chance to pause, slow down and rethink priorities. There is no rush to return to the normal everyday stress many of us face on a daily basis, and instead we have an opportunity to seek new ways of doing things that really work for us.
A four-day week would help to re-balance work and life. It would give us more time to spend with our families, look after ourselves and do things that are good for our wellbeing.
While mental health issues are clearly important now, Mind has also suggested that these issues won’t change. In fact, the charity warns they could get worse due to unemployment and financial difficulties predicted as the economy tries to recover after the pandemic. Solutions like a four-day week would mean more job opportunities and a more equal distribution of work and income for all.
Embracing new ways of working
A move towards greater acceptance of flexible and ‘part-time’ work would be huge step in the right direction when it comes to mental health, work life balance and our overall wellbeing. While a four-day week may sound good on paper, if in reality asking for reduced hours will be met with outright rejection or negative treatment at work, we will all be taking a huge step backwards.
We must start normalising conversations about work life balance beyond early finish Fridays or a token gym membership – real balance comes when it works practically for each individual person and business.
Lockdown has proved we can all work in different ways, and if society, Government and organisations were more open to reduced or different ways of working it could have an enormously positive impact on many people. It’s not just individuals who would benefit from this. For organisations it means talent retention, improved staff wellbeing and greater efficiency at work.
A four-day week is just one example of flexible working, with others including job shares, compressed hours, freelance working and any combination of working hours or days. Clearly there might be financial implications for individuals, but often a reduction from five days to four does not in real terms mean a drop to 80% of salary because of tax and national insurance reductions for example.
From personal experience, a four-day week offered me greater balance, more flexibility and ultimately was a powerful way for me to manage my mental health. Since having children, my partner also works four days a week so we can both work and parent (and look after ourselves) on a more equal footing. I’m confident that the move to a four-day week has meant I’m happier, healthier and even better at work when I’m doing it. I’m my own boss now, but seeing my seniors at the time embrace and support this kind of flexible working was hugely encouraging and positive.
As we start to readjust to life after lockdown we must look to gain a better balance between work and home to help us all live happier and healthier lives. We must move towards a kinder, friendlier and more people focused way of working to support not just the economy but all of us as individuals. Wider cultural acceptance of working part time or reduced hours will be key to not just going back to normal, but seeking to make the future of work better than before.
About the author
Annabel Lee is a freelance writer and communications consultant. She has over 12 years experience leading PR and marketing campaigns for businesses from start-ups to world leaders. She is particularly interested in work life balance, workplace wellness, the future of work, mindfulness and mental health. Read her blog and get in touch at www.thewellconnection.co.uk