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Research calls for greater flexibility in working hours to protect national wellbeing

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Government and employer policies that give people greater flexibility to choose the hours they want to work would help to protect our national wellbeing levels, claims new research from Loughborough University.

The study by Professor Andy Charlwood found people who become overworked are less satisfied with their lives and experience lower levels of psychological wellbeing.

But while it is often assumed that working long hours reduces wellbeing the key factor to happiness, according to the study, was whether the hours people work reflect the hours they want to work. However many working the longest hours would like to do less.

Professor Charlwood, based in the University’s School of Business and Economics examined the working time patterns and wellbeing levels of 20,000 individuals over an 18 year period using data from the British Household Panel Survey.

“When workers are overworked – working more hours a week than they would like – life satisfaction and psychological wellbeing deteriorate,” he explains.  “Your risk of being overworked rises the more hours you work, with those who work the longest hours being the most likely to work more than they want.”

The research team found that more than 55% of workers who regularly work 50 or more hours a week would like to work less, as would around 40% of workers who work between 40 and 49 hours a week.

Professor Charlwood added: “Thankfully, most workers who experience overwork are able to rearrange their lives so that the hours they work and the hours they want to work come back into balance.  But around 1 in 8 workers who become overworked are in the same situation two years later, and this appears to be a significant source of worry and unhappiness.

“To help protect our national wellbeing levels Government and employer policies need to give workers greater flexibility to choose the hours that they work.”

The study has been published in the journal Human Relations and was co-authored with David Angrave from the University of York. The full article can be viewed here.