There’s no doubt that work dominates the vast majority of people’s lives.

It seems that most people spend more time at work earning a wage than we do pursing our passions and interests or even spend time with family. Of course, this doesn’t apply to everybody. But perhaps, for those that it does, there is another way forward.

A recent study which was published in the Melbourne Institute Worker Paper series suggests that people aged 40 or above appear to perform better when working only three days per week.

The research consisted of 3000 men and 3,500 women who underwent cognitive tests which included matching numbers and letters, reading aloud and reciting lists of numbers backwards, all under a time constraint.

Having also taken into account the circumstances of each participant (financial status, family, type of employment), it was found that on average a 25 hour work week produced the best results. Beyond that, the quality of the results started to decrease as both stress and tiredness kicked in.

“These results indicate that, for both males and females, the magnitude of the positive impact of working hours on their cognitive ability is decreasing until working hours reaches a threshold, and above that, further increases in working hours have a negative impact on their cognitive functioning… Then, where is the threshold?”

It was also pointed out by Professor of Economics at Keio University, Colin McKenzie that although work can benefit and stimulate brain functions, too much work as well as certain work activities can cause brain functions to deteriorate.

The study also said:

“Using the test scores of memory span and cerebral dysfunction for the respondents, it is found that working hours up to 25–30 hours per week have a positive impact on cognition for males depending on the measure and up to 22–27 hours for females… Our study highlights that too much work can have adverse effects on cognitive functioning.”

If we pause and examine the society, we can see the symptoms of being overworked right across the age spectrum. Whether it’s fatigue, lack of sleep, disrupted relationships, depression or even substance abuse, we can see the impact of a workforce who are constantly constant pressure to perform better. There’s a disregard for what matters most in life: family, relationships, health and our pursuing our passions.

Can the 25 hour work week come to our rescue?

If performance matters, then a more wise and considerate approach to working hours may be an answer that companies could adopt. The idea to “slow down and enjoy life” might bring laughter to the workaholics, or for those so accustomed to the 40-hour work week, it seems a little too fanciful.

If working beyond the retirement age is inevitable or a free choice then consider what the Okinawan Centenarian Study has shown.

The elderly people of Okinawa, Japan, never believed that working was bad as they specifically chose tasks that aligned with the ‘ikigai’, which means their purpose and not simply for cultural norms or money. This had the effect of making them happier and, on average, live longer too.

What can we do?

Remember, the economy and business structures that we work within were all constructed by us humans. Thus, it’s our choice how much we feed the ‘corporatocracy’.

Is the 40 hour work week making you suffer? Do you want to change? We first need to acknowledge and agree on what that we consent to living this way. After that, opportunities for change begin to present themselves. What’s to stop us?!

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