The Employment Dosage: How Much Work is Needed for Health and Wellbeing? (CBR project)



Numerous psychological studies have demonstrated that, for most people in most jobs, paid employment generates higher levels of physical health, mental health and wellbeing than unemployment or economic inactivity. With the advent of machine learning and robotics taking over many of the jobs currently done by humans, and hastening the long-running slow trend in the shortening of the working week, the possibility of a future where there is a radical reduction in the hours of employment is now being taken more seriously. This scenario has fostered much debate among political economists and policy thinkers about the implications for earnings and earnings inequality, re-stimulating discussions of Universal Basic Income.

Yet evidence suggests that economic factors (for example, wages) are only one benefit of paid employment; there is a strong consensus that there are other social and psychological benefits of employment, and withdrawal of these (for example, unemployment) results in a deterioration of individuals’ mental health and wellbeing. The impact of mass part-time work on wellbeing has significant policy implications for government health and welfare expenditure.

There is, therefore, one important gap within the political economy of labour market literature and policy design: knowing what is the smallest amount of paid work that will provide, on average, levels of health and wellbeing characteristic of employees rather than of the unemployed. In other words, how much paid employment is needed to get some or all of the physical and mental wellbeing benefits from work?

Aims and objectives

The overall aim of this project is to investigate whether it is possible to quantify the dosage of work needed to safeguard an individual’s health and wellbeing. In other words, what is the minimum dosage of paid work that is necessary to get the psycho-social benefits of employment?

Supplementary objectives of this research project are:

  1. Analyse what is the minimum/optimum amount of time in paid work needed for good health/wellbeing in terms of hours of work per week or per year.
  2. Analyse to what extent this ‘minimum’ number of hours depends on individual variables (for example, personal resilience, personality, locus of control, age, pre-existing social support etc.).
  3. Examine whether the relationship between minimum hours of work and wellbeing is moderated by socioeconomic variables (for example, job content, psychosocial ‘vitamins’/active ingredients in employment), and socio-economic context.
  4. Examine the extent to which other types of work, such as voluntary work or participation in active labour market programmes (ALMPs) can substitute for hours of conventional paid work as providers of wellbeing.


The research takes different empirical and methodological approaches to address these objectives. The quantitative component includes the analysis of three large datasets (one UK panel, one EU-wide survey and one survey with detail of the psycho-social content of jobs to examine the relationship between hours of work and wellbeing). The qualitative component is composed of in-depth interviews with people already undertaking part-time work and other atypical forms of work.

Using our existing policy networks with the policy partners the research findings will be disseminated directly back to decision makers ensuring the research has significant impacts on thinking and future policy design.


The Employment Dosage Research Project has progressed well since its inception. In June 2019 a paper we published in Social Science and Medicine received extensive media coverage in the UK and was picked up by news outlets around the world. This paper used data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study (2009-2018) to look at how subjective wellbeing changes as people’s hours or work change. It found that eight hours’ work was sufficient to get the wellbeing benefits that paid work is known to provide. This quantitative strand of the project is now working on a second paper, which is looking at the role job quality plays in producing mental health outcomes. This work tries to quantify the differing contributions made by job quality and job quantity.

For the qualitative strand of the project we have been interviewing people who voluntarily work less than 30 hours a week. This has included people across a wide range of occupations and working patterns, from those who only work a few days a month, to those on a standard four-day a week contract. We have also spoken to self-employed and seasonal workers. Our paper on participants’ multiple motivations for reducing their working hours was published in Time and Society in 2020. A final qualitative strand of the project is now being developed, investigating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on working time norms within organisations – specifically those that chose to move to a shorter working week. Our research will attempt to uncover the motivations, power dynamics and impacts involved, including organisations that decided to keep the working time adjustments in place long-term, as well as case studies of those who abandoned the changes. The research is currently in the development phase, with early recruitment now underway.

Contact details

[email protected]


Principal investigators

  • Brendan Burchell


  • Ursula Balderson
  • Adam Coutts
  • David Frayne
  • Senhu Wang

Project status


Project dates



Cambridge Political Economy Society Trust


This project is funded by Cambridge Political Economy Society Trust (CPEST). The Cambridge Political Economy Society, founded in the 1970s, aims to advance the education of the public in political economy and related matters, and to promote research in matters pertaining to political economy and to publish the useful results of such research. To this end the Society publishes the Cambridge Journal of Economics, the Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society and Contributions to Political Economy. In 1985 the Society established a charitable Trust which works to further these aims by providing funding for a variety of projects. More information about the Trust and the types of funding it provides is available here.

CPEST aims to (1) to advance the education of the public in political economy and related matters, and (2) to promote research in matters pertaining to political economy and to publish the useful results of such research. CPEST funds research in political economy to include work of a theoretical, applied, interdisciplinary, history of thought or methodological nature, having a strong emphasis on realistic analysis, the development of critical perspectives, the provision and use of empirical evidence, and the construction of policy.


Journal articles

Balderson, U., Burchell, B., Kamerāde, D., et al. (2021) “‘Just the freedom to get good at things and stuff like that’: reflections on how less time at work may improve social and individual wellbeing” (under review at revise and resubmit stage).

Kamerāde, D. , Wang, S., Besa, I., Burchell B., et al. (2021) “A longitudinal study comparing impact of reduced working hours, furlough, and no paid work on workers’ mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic” (under review).

Soffia M, Wood AJ, and Burchell B. (2021) “Alienation Is Not ‘Bullshit’: An Empirical Critique of Graeber’s Theory of BS Jobs”. Work, Employment and Society. doi:10.1177/09500170211015067

Wang, S., Kamerāde, D., Burchell, B. et al. (2021) “All job quality matters more than job quantity for employees’ mental health: an analysis of the 2015 European Working Conditions Survey” (under review at revise and resubmit stage).

Wang, S., Coutts, A., Burchell, B., Kamerāde, D., and Balderson, U. (2021) “Can active labour market programmes emulate the mental health benefits of regular paid employment? Longitudinal evidence from the United Kingdom”, Work, Employment and Society. doi:

Burchell, B., Reuschke, D., and Zhang, M. (2020) “Spatial and temporal segmenting of urban workplaces: the gendering of multi-locational working”, Urban Studies. doi:

Balderson, U., Wang, S., Burchell, B., Kamerade, D., Coutts A. P. (2020) “An exploration of the multiple motivations for spending less time at work.” Time and Society, Vol. 30 (1).

Wang, S., Coutts, A. P., Burchell, B., Kamerade, D., Balderson, U. (2020) “Can Active Labour Market Programmes Emulate the Mental Health Benefits of Regular Paid Employment? Longitudinal Evidence from the United Kingdom.” Work, Employment and Society, Vol. 35 (3)

Kamerade, D., Wang, S., Brendan, B., Balderson, U. and Coutts, A. (2019) “A shorter working week for everyone: How much paid work is needed for mental health and well-being?”, Social, Science & Medicine, Vol. 241. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2019.06.006.

Conference papers and workshops

Kamerāde, D. Two presentations on Employment Dosage project for the Vocational Rehabilitation Association.

“Hay que reducir la jornada de trabajo” (Spanish: We have to reduce the working day) plenary talk, Employment Quality Observatory, University of Chile, Dec 2018.

“Employment is good, but you only need a snack, not a banquet.” Plenary talk, annual conference of the University of the Third Age, Cambridge, January 2019.

“‘I just don’t wanna work all the time’: understanding decision making in transitions to reduced hour working schedules,” ESA Conference, Manchester, August 2019.

“A shorter working week for everyone? Possible implications for wellbeing, mental health and quality of life”, SASE Annual Meeting, New York, USA.

“How much or little work is good for you? A shorter working week, well-being and mental health”, ESA Conference, Manchester, August 2019.

“Intensificación del trabajo y bienestar de los trabajadores” (Spanish: Labour intensification and the wellbeing of workers) 6 December 2018. Faculty Ciencias Sociales, Universidad de Chile, Dec 2018.

“Let’s reduce working hours! A solution to losing jobs to machine learning and robotics” Centre for Pluralist Economics, Anglia Ruskin, 6 February 2019.

“The future of work: quality vs quantity of paid work” Cumberland House, Windsor, March 2019.

“Future of work after automation: towards a five-day weekend society!” Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, May 2019.

“Work and recommended weekly allowances” Sutton Trust summer school, July 2019.

Working papers

Burchell, B., Wang, S., Kamerāde, D., Bessa, I. and Rubery, J. (2020) “Cut Hours, Not People: No Work, Furlough, Short Hours and Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic in the UK”, CBR WP 521.

Kamerāde, D., Balderson, U., Burchell, B., Wang, S. and Coutts, A. (2020) “Shorter Working Week and Workers’ Well-being and Mental Health”, CBR WP 522.

Book chapters

Kamerāde, D., Balderson, U., Burchell, B., Wang, S., & Coutts, A. (2021) Shorter working week and workers’ well-being and mental health. In M. Müller & C. Reiff (eds.), Arbeitszeit:  Rahmenbedingungen – Ambivalenzen – Perspektiven (In German: Working time: Frameworks – Ambivalences- Perspectives). Austrian Trade Union confederation

Other publications (eg book reviews, pamphlets, blogs)

Kamerāde, D. An article on Employment Dosage project in Insights publication (from the Understanding Society Survey) (forthcoming in 2021).

User contacts consultancy and advice given (paid or unpaid)

Kamerāde, D., Burchell, B., Wang, S., Balderson, U., & Coutts, A. (2021) Employment and mental health: towards a shorter standard working week. Paper presented at the Insights 2021 /Understanding Society Survey impact event, Online.

Media coverage

Burchell, B., “The battle over the future of work is about autonomy”, The FT, 29 August 2021.

“Four-day week could be Covid’s greatest gift”, Times, 25 August 2021.

Burchell, B., “Make mine a micro-job! Why working one day a week is the secret of happiness”, The Guardian, 22 March 2021.

Burchell, B., “Study finds the key to happiness: working one day a week”, Times, 21 March 2021.

Burchell, B., “Why the bullshit-jobs thesis may be, well, bullshit”, Economist, 5 June 2021.

Burchell, B., “The benefits of part-time work”, Economist, 31 March 2021.

Burchell, B., “Finances : comment la “thérapie financière” peut changer notre relation avec l’argent”, BBC Afrique, 27 August 2021.

Kamerāde, D., “A commentary about Icelandic four days working week experiment“, CNN, 9 July 2021.

Kamerāde, D., American Trends – an interview for a podcast on shorter working week (in production)

Burchell, B. “Even a few hours of paid work a week can greatly improve mental health“, BRINK – Conversations and Insights on Global Business (, 19 August 2021.

Opinion: Employers should cut hours not people during the pandemic “, University of Cambridge, May 2020.

Just one day of work a week is enough to give a mental health boost, Cambridge University finds“, The World News, June 2019.

The case for an 8-hour work week“, VICE, June 2019.

A short working week is good for your mental health – but it made me miserable“, The Guardian, June 2019.

Want to maximize your well-being? This is the incredible number of hours you should work, according to a study of 70,000 people“, INC, June 2019.

Mental health researchers say working 8 hours a week is the correct ‘dosage’ for our brains“, Metro, June 2019. 

Work just one day a week for peak mental health benefits, study finds“, Independent, June 2019.

“Working even just a few hours a week boosts mental and emotional health”, Pacific Standard, June 2019.

Just one day of work a week improves mental health, study suggests“, The Guardian, June 2019.

Working just ONE DAY each week gives you all the mental and physical health benefits you reap from full-time employment“, Mail Online, June 2019.

One day of work a week is most effective dose for mental health, study says“, Bloomberg, June 2019

Just one day of work a week is enough to give a mental health boost, Cambridge University finds“, The Telegraph, June 2019