LIFESTYLE

Brits Should Cut To A Four-Day Working Week To Reduce Stress, Says Leading Doctor

02/07/2014 12:55 BST | Updated 03/07/2014 11:59 BST

Here at HuffPost UK Lifestyle, we've been saying for a while that we need to redefine success and consider our wellbeing as key - and it looks like we may have been on to something.

According to one of Britain's leading doctors, people should only work four days per week to reduce their stress levels and allow them to make more time for the important things in life.

Speaking to The Guardian, Professor John Ashton, president of the Faculty of Public Health, said the UK is suffering from a “maldistribution of work” where work-life balance has long been forgotten.

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“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 said.

Neil Shah, founder of the Stress Management Society which deals with a lot of workplace stress, said to HuffPost UK Lifestyle: "In theory the idea of a 4 day work week is fantastic! However, in practice what often happens is that people will become more stressed when having to face the reality of squeezing five days’ worth of work into four days. This has the potential to exacerbate the problem of a high workload rather than fix it."

Professor Ashton also noted that while much of the population is over-working, some are not working at all.

"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,” he added.

The Health and Safety Executive has said that 105,000,000 work days are lost to stress each year, costing UK employers £1.24bn. And 75% of all psychological and physical illnesses in the UK can be attributed to stress.

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At a series of London talks earlier this year, founder of The Huffington Post Arianna Huffington described burnout as "a disease that we need to eradicate."

Blogging for The Huffington Post UK, business woman Karren Brady pointed out that it is sometimes the young that suffer most under gruelling working conditions.

"The tragic death of 21-year-old Moritz Erhardt, who collapsed after eight all-night shifts whilst working as an intern at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, has shone a light on the increasing pressures that young people are under in the working world.

"All employers have a duty of care, regardless of whether you're a large corporation or a small family business, to ensure that every employee is being looked after, especially if they are an intern," she said.

How would it work in theory?

Neil suggests: "In order for a four day working week to be successful organisations would have to recruit extra staff to ensure a five-day workload will not have to be completed in four days. We have all experienced this – the bank holiday weekends which tend to roll into a short week where you inevitably end up working longer hours or taking work home to catch up.

"A four-day week is not a sustainable long term option – it’s better to have strategies to ensure good work/life balance and good work/work balance to ensure employees are handling the various conflicting demands of the job. Flexible working, shorter days and opportunities to work from home are likely to be more effective strategies to balance the commercial needs of a business and an employee’s wellbeing. Or one potential alternative is maintaining a five-day week with the possibility of working from home one day per week."