“A six-hour workday is optimal”: psychologist Sarita Bradaš talks about shorter workweeks

Two centuries have passed since it became clear that shorter working hours make workers happier and more satisfied and reduce injuries at work. Today in Serbia, we are far from the proclaimed eight-hour workday, but that shouldn't stop us from debating contemporary trends of shortening of workweek, which we talked about with psychologist Sarita Bradaš.

“It took the labour movement almost a hundred years to achieve success in its fight for the ‘three eights’, from the moment when the English industrialist Robert Owen adopted a social program with the slogan: eight hours of work, eight hours of recreation and eight hours of rest.”

As Bradaš explains, Owen’s motives were quite pragmatic – he came to the conclusion that shorter working hours will reduce mistakes and injuries at work, make workers happier and healthier, and overall result in increased productivity.

However, according to Bradaš, even 200 years later, and in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution, most employers in Serbia do not understand what Owen advocated:

“Although working hours in Serbia are legally limited to 40 hours a week, in reality a typical work day is far from the ‘three eights’. Compared to other European countries, our workers work the longest: 42.9 hours on average, with the longest hours being in the construction sector (46.9) and catering (45.2). When you add to this the time for commuting, it is obvious that many are forced to cut either their free time or time meant for rest”, explains Bradaš.

Earlier we wrote about current concepts for shortening the working week to four days. To many, such proposals seem unrealistic. Nevertheless, in the meantime, some companies in Serbia accepted the four-day working week as their working time principle.

Regardless of the research and examples of practice that testify that a shorter working week is good for people’s lives and health, dilemmas and questions arise – what would happen if we actually adopt the shorter workweek, what would we do with extra free time, could we even adapt or have we become so addicted to work that we would not even be able to cope?

“Dependence on work can be viewed in context of needs that work satisfies: financial, psychological and social. In Serbia, full-time work does not provide earnings sufficient for a dignified life, so this type of dependence is related to the inability to meet existential needs. Reducing working hours, as shown by numerous researches, increases productivity, reduces stress, improves physical and mental health, reduces sick leave, and helps establish a better work-life balance”, says Sarita Bradaš for Mašina.

She adds that, according to the data from the Gender Barometer, family is more important than work for both men and women (64% of women and 59% of men). According to the same research, one third of respondents give equal importance to family and work (32% of men and 34% of women), while only 4% of men and 2% woman prioritize work and thus fall into the category of those “addicted to work”.

“Scientists agree that six hours of work a day is ideal, so I am more in favour of a five-day, not a four-day workweek. If we chose a four-day working week, in order to achieve the effects of shorter working hours, then working hours shouldn’t be longer than seven hours a day”, concludes Bradaš.

Translation from Serbian: Iskra Krstić

This article was ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED in Serbian on May 9, 2022. 


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