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The Employment Dosage: How Much Work is Needed for Health and Wellbeing?


Numerous psychological studies have demonstrated that, for most people in most jobs, paid employment generates higher levels of physical health, mental health and wellbeing than unemployment or economic inactivity. With the advent of machine learning and robotics taking over many of the jobs currently done by humans, and hastening the long-running slow trend in the shortening of the working week, the possibility of a future where there is a radical reduction in the hours of employment is now being taken more seriously. This scenario has fostered much debate among political economists and policy thinkers about the implications for earnings and earnings inequality, re-stimulating discussions of Universal Basic Income.

Yet evidence suggests that economic factors (for example, wages) are only one benefit of paid employment; there is a strong consensus that there are other social and psychological benefits of employment, and withdrawal of these (for example, unemployment) results in a deterioration of individuals’ mental health and wellbeing. The impact of mass part-time work on wellbeing has significant policy implications for government health and welfare expenditure.

There is, therefore, one important gap within the political economy of labour market literature and policy design: knowing what is the smallest amount of paid work that will provide, on average, levels of health and wellbeing characteristic of employees rather than of the unemployed. In other words, how much paid employment is needed to get some or all of the physical and mental wellbeing benefits from work?

Aims & objectives

The overall aim of this project is to investigate whether it is possible to quantify the dosage of work needed to safeguard an individual’s health and wellbeing. In other words, what is the minimum dosage of paid work that is necessary to get the psycho-social benefits of employment?

Supplementary objectives of this research project are:

  1. Analyse what is the minimum/optimum amount of time in paid work needed for good health/wellbeing in terms of hours of work per week or per year.
  2. Analyse to what extent this ‘minimum’ number of hours depends on individual variables (for example, personal resilience, personality, locus of control, age, pre-existing social support etc.).
  3. Examine whether the relationship between minimum hours of work and wellbeing is moderated by socioeconomic variables (for example, job content, psychosocial 'vitamins'/active ingredients in employment), and socio-economic context.
  4. Examine the extent to which other types of work, such as voluntary work or participation in active labour market programmes (ALMPs) can substitute for hours of conventional paid work as providers of wellbeing.


The research takes different empirical and methodological approaches to address these objectives. The quantitative component includes the analysis of three large datasets (one UK panel, one EU-wide survey and one survey with detail of the psycho-social content of jobs to examine the relationship between hours of work and wellbeing). The qualitative component is composed of in-depth interviews with people already undertaking part-time work and other atypical forms of work.

Using our existing policy networks with the policy partners the research findings will be disseminated directly back to decision makers ensuring the research has significant impacts on thinking and future policy design.


This project is currently at the set-up stage; work is due to begin in September 2018.

Principal investigators

Dr Brendan Burchell

Project status


Project dates