The intriguing study, which tested the brainpower and analysed working patterns of about 3,000 men and 3,500 women, says that a shortened working week strikes the right balance between keeping the brain active and avoiding stress and exhaustion.
It found that those working about 25 hours a week performed best on a series of measures from economic wellbeing through to memory and number tests.
A way to cater for an older workforce?
The study itself only centred solely on the over-40s, and further research will need to be carried out to determine whether or not this is an age-specific phenomenon.
However, reducing the working week might be something that needs to be considered as the UK looks to increase the age to which people work.
The pension age has already risen in recent years, extending the typical career length of a British worker. From 2020 the state pension age for men and women will be 66, rising to 67 in the next decade.
For many years, the state pension age for men was 65 and the state pension age for women was 60. But, from 2020, both men and women's state pension age will be 66, increasing to 67 between 2026 and 2028, and then linked to life expectancy after that. There are projections for how this might change in the future, with This Is Money showing how the current generation of new starters might be working until they are 77.
Will workers in their late 60s and early 70s still want to work upwards of 40 hours a week? The Australian study certainly suggests these workers would be more productive if they took a drop in hours.
Three days…. or six hours a day
A shorter working week is actually being trialled on a fairly large scale in Sweden. This doesn’t involve fewer days, however, but a shorter working day.
The move towards a six-hour day – for all, not just the over-40s - has taken off in the Scandinavian country, with a view to getting more done in a smaller timeframe to free up workers to have more time for their private lives.
The idea has been embraced by companies after becoming popular with Toyota’s base in Gothenburg in the early 2000s. The car manufacturer launched a trial and reported that staff were happy and profits rose. Perhaps short, sharp bursts of productivity are the way forward?
Work/life balance has to be addressed
The challenge of an ageing workforce – and ageing population as a whole – may well come at the same time as technology changes the face of the workplace. Advances in robotics and other technology are being widely tipped to take away many jobs that workers currently hold. You don’t have to be a sci-fi fantasist to see how this might work. The software we currently have available can already automate many workplace functions and free up people to perform other tasks in the workplace – click here to see an example.
By working fewer days, or maybe fewer hours, and letting technology take the strain, we might finally be able to grasp an opportunity for a healthier relationship with work. It certainly feels like this will be something that rises to the fore over the next decade.