A three day weekend every weekend - fantasy or the future?

IS A four-day work week the silver bullet to our overworked First World lifestyles?

According to one leading health professor from the United Kingdom, it is.

Professor John Ashton, president of the UK Faculty of Public Health, believes a shorter work week would give people more time for their families or exercising - and cut stress.

He even theorises the downshift might be able to help unemployed pick up the slack, reducing overall unemployment.

It sounds great, but how would a four-day working week look in practice? Would we be able to afford it? Would we really be happier, and healthier?

We asked people on Facebook who have already structured a four-day week into their lives what it was like.

Lismore local Dennis Pickford said he had been working 10-hour days across a four day week for 15 years and "it's great you don't even notice the extra two hours each day, and it's well worth the three day weekend."

It sounds wonderful, but senior lecturer from the Southern Cross University School of Health Dr Gary Mellor thinks otherwise.

Dr Mellor was sceptical about attempts to cram a 40-hour week into four days.

He cited research that showed if you decrease "recovery time", people are more predisposed to fall asleep at work.

"We need about six hours of interrupted sleep so that we don't feel too sleepy at work," he said.

"Some people don't keep regular shift patterns and by shortening their week... you run into this problem where they're not able to recover."

Dr Mellor also said taking money away from people by imposing a shorter working week would, funnily enough, actually make people less healthy, not more.

The comments were based on data demonstrating that people who earn more are generally healthier - up to a certain level of income, of course.

Research conducted by Southern Cross Business School Professor Yvonne Brunetto in the nursing, policing and engineering fields also suggests the reality of shorter weeks is murkier than at first glance.

Her research and found that where nurses and police officers had reduced their hours, it was often a forced situation, due to external budget cuts - and to add insult to injury they were often expected to do the same amount of work as before.

"Often they would physically take a pay cut and reduce the number of hours... but they still get the same amount done. That's where the pressure is," she said.

Her research also consigns to fantasy the idea that the unemployed might "pick up the slack", since where nurses and police officers did want a shorter week, they wanted to work the same number of hours over fewer days.

In fact Professor Brunetto said the modern reality was those employed were actually working more than ever - and it showed no signs of changing.

"I think it's a hidden problem in Australia," she said.

"A sizeable percentage of Australians work a 50-hour week. The research says these people don't get paid for it, but they have to do it in order to get their job done."

Like it or not, the working week is changing - for some

SELF-styled "business futurologist" Morris Miselowski reckons the way we do work in the future will change from a structured eight-hour work day to more piecemeal, project orientated work.

Mr Miselowski believes we will soon be "getting things done as, where and when they need to be done... rather than trying to shoehorn it into an industrial revolution constructed work week".

He goes on to say, "the ability to work where and when you want, will allow families to choose together time that suits them all", and to "re-frame family back into the centre of activity... ".

While it might be possible in certain project-orientated professions, it was equally impossible in others - such as shift-based professions - according to Dr Mellor.

"For every job you could do half of at home, there are just as many jobs you can't, such as construction and nursing."

Topics:  employment

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