People should only work for four days a week to reduce their stress levels, allow them to take more exercise and see their families, one of Britain’s leading public health doctors has said.
Professor John Ashton, president of the Faculty of Public Health, said the UK is suffering from a “maldistribution of work” where some people work far too hard and others not at all. Reducing the working week to four days would redress the balance, he argued.
“We need a four-day week so that people can enjoy their lives, have more time with their families, and maybe reduce high blood pressure because people might start exercising on that extra day,” he told The Guardian.
“When you look at the way we lead our lives, the stress that people are under, the pressure on time and sickness absence, [work-related] mental health is clearly a major issue.
“We should be moving towards a four-day week because the problem we have in the world of work is you’ve got a proportion of the population who are working too hard and a proportion that haven’t got jobs. We’ve got a maldistribution of work. The lunch hour has gone: people just have a sandwich at their desk and carry on working.”
Professor Ashton was elected as president of the Faculty of Public Health, which represents more than 3,000 specialists working in the NHS, local government and academia, last year. He is keen to raise awareness about the variety of mental health problems that can be caused by overwork.
Britain is often described as one of the hardest-working European countries, but Professor Ashton said that in some circumstances doing too many hours can cause excess anxiety, drive people to alcohol and cause relationship problems.
“If you’ve got two people in a couple working, they need to be able to work in such a way that they can spend time together with their children. It’s a nightmare,” he told the newspaper, adding that a four-day week would be the best way to “operationalise” David Cameron’s idea of a caring "Big Society".