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

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 the impact of mass part-time work on mental health and wellbeing.

This research project focuses on an important gap within the political economy of labour market literature and policy design: knowing how much paid employment is needed to get some or all of the physical and mental wellbeing benefits from work. We hope to shed light on this question using both quantitative and qualitative research methods.

The quantitative stream of the project has analysed 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. Future directions include consideration of the role that job quality plays in employee wellbeing which will consider how 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. The project will also consider 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 qualitative research stream consists of series of semi structured interviews with people who have voluntarily reduced the amount of time they spend in paid employment. These interviews are trying to understand what the future might look like if there was a widespread adoption of reduced hour work schedules. We are interested in questions such as where the decision to work less came from, how people use their time outside work and whether they ever feel they suffer from an excess of free time. We suspect that any 'minimum' number of hours would depend on individual variables (for example, personal resilience, personality, locus of control, age and pre-existing social support).

This project is funded by Cambridge Political Economy Society Trust (CPEST). The Cambridge Political Economy Society, founded in the 1970s, aims to advance the education of the public in political economy and related matters, and to promote research in matters pertaining to political economy and to publish the useful results of such research. To this end the Society publishes the Cambridge Journal of Economics, the Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society and Contributions to Political Economy. In 1985 the Society established a charitable Trust which works to further these aims by providing funding for a variety of projects. More information about the Trust and the types of funding it provides is available here.

CPEST aims to (1) to advance the education of the public in political economy and related matters, and (2) to promote research in matters pertaining to political economy and to publish the useful results of such research. CPEST funds research in political economy to include work of a theoretical, applied, interdisciplinary, history of thought or methodological nature, having a strong emphasis on realistic analysis, the development of critical perspectives, the provision and use of empirical evidence, and the construction of policy.

Journal articles

Kamerade, D., Wang, S., Brendan, B., Balderson, U. and Coutts, A. (2019) "A shorter working week for everyone: How much paid work is needed for mental health and well-being?" Social, Science & Medicine. DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2019.06.006.

Conference papers

"Hay que reducir la jornada de trabajo" (Spanish: We have to reduce the working day) plenary talk, Employment Quality Observatory, University of Chile, Dec 2018.

"Employment is good, but you only need a snack, not a banquet." Plenary talk, annual conference of the University of the Third Age, Cambridge, Jan 2019.

"'I just don’t wanna work all the time': understanding decision making in transitions to reduced hour working schedules," ESA Conference, Manchester, Aug 2019.

"A shorter working week for everyone? Possible implications for wellbeing, mental health and quality of life", SASE Annual Meeting, New York, USA.

"How much or little work is good for you? A shorter working week, well-being and mental health", ESA Conference, Manchester, Aug 2019.

"Intensificación del trabajo y bienestar de los trabajadores" (Spanish: Labour intensification and the wellbeing of workers) 6 December 2018. Faculty Ciencias Sociales, Universidad de Chile, Dec 2018.

"Let’s reduce working hours! A solution to losing jobs to machine learning and robotics" Centre for Pluralist Economics, Anglia Ruskin, 6 Feb 2019.

"The future of work: quality vs quantity of paid work" Cumberland House, Windsor, March 2019.

"Future of work after automation: towards a five-day weekend society!" Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, May 2019.

"Work and recommended weekly allowances" Sutton Trust summer school, July 2019.

Contact us

11-12 Trumpington Street
Cambridge
CB2 1AG, UK

Email: cbr-fut-work@lists.cam.ac.uk

Principal investigators

Dr Brendan Burchell

Project status

Ongoing

Project dates

2018-2020

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