New research has revealed that the over-40s work best if they put in less than 25 hours a week – effectively working part-time.
The study, carried out by the University of Melbourne this year, found that cognitive performance otherwise decreased, as “fatigue and stress” kicked in.
Middle-aged workers hit maximum productivity when they were in the office up to 25 hours, or three days.
But working more than 40 hours – or five days a week – made cognitive function decline dramatically.
The study was carried out on more than 6,000 workers over the age of 40 in Australia; there are plans to do further research to see if the effects are the same for those under 40.
“Work can be a double-edged sword, in that it can stimulate the brain activity, but at the same time long working hours can cause fatigue and stress, which potentially damage cognitive function,” says professor Colin McKenzie, one of the authors of the study, from Keio University in Japan.
While part-time hours may be impractical – particularly in a country like the UAE, where an employee costs an employer the same to hire, in terms of sponsorship and healthcare costs, whether they work full- or part-time – flexible working is not.
Emily Christensen, director of recruitment agency H3, set up Facebook page Part-time Portal UAE, to help people looking for shorter working hours. It has more than 13,000 fans.
She says there has definitely been “growth” in part-time roles in the UAE. “Companies are finally coming around to using this to their advantage rather than being stubborn and maintaining that part-time is not an option,” she says.
“Personally I think that people work better in short bursts. I know from being here for the past 16 years that there is still a culture here whereby employees don’t want to be the first one to leave, which is not exactly productive.”
Sadly, it’s all still a long way from economist John Maynard Keynes’ prediction back in 1930 that, within 100 years, we would be enjoying a 15-hour work week on Mondays and Tuesdays, with a lovely five-day weekend – every week.
Suzanne Locke expands on the notion of a three-day working week being best for the over-40s:
Is anyone doing this?
Toyota centres in Gothenburg, in Sweden, made the change to a six-hour day 13 years ago and the whole country moved to a six-hour day – on eight-hour pay – last year. Sociologist Roland Paulsen of Sweden’s Lund University has argued that on average two hours of any person’s work day is filled with “empty labour” – things like smoking breaks and surfing the internet.
What about the law here in the UAE?
As long as you have a No Objection Certificate from your spouse, you can work part-time on their visa, says Emily Christensen of H3 for the role to be legal.
Why is 40 the turning point for shorter hours?
According to the study co-author Colin McKenzie, by the age of 40, most people perform less well at memory tests, pattern recognition and mental agility exercises. But even from 20, our ability to process information declines and, from 30, the ability to use skills, knowledge and experience decreases.
Where did the eight-hour day come from?
Eight hours of work, personal time and sleep was the thinking behind the Victorian “eight-hour day movement”. The two-day weekend has also only been around for a century; Saturday was added to the traditional Sunday off to try to improve productivity and reduce Monday absences at factories that had a working day of 10 to 16 hours, six days a week.
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