Will shortening the working week fix the region’s wellbeing crisis?

Will shortening the working week fix the region’s wellbeing crisis?

James Miller, Peter Turner

Many of us are still absorbing the big news that the UAE has moved its weekend to Saturday and Sunday and adopted a four-and-a-half day working week.
As the first GCC nation to alter its weekly routine to be in line with the West, it’s widely recognised that the move will benefit the UAE’s economy.
However, there are also theories that working less hours will have an enormously positive impact on the population’s mental and physical health as well.
Indeed, with studies showing that up to 50 percent of UAE residents are failing to meet the recommended amount of daily exercise, the UAE has one of the least active populations across the world. The pandemic has also exacerbated this lack of activity even further.
So, as the first country in the world to introduce a shorter working week, we explain why the UAE now an opportunity has to solve the world’s ever rising wellbeing crisis, and lead the way in tackling inactivity and neglected mental health.
Boosting health and productivity
Reducing working hours will afford people the opportunity to exercise more and prioritise extra time towards their health and wellbeing.
The reward for this being increased productivity and gains in performance, both in and out of the workplace. Those who choose to embrace this change with healthy choices are also likely to feel happier and more content in all areas of life.
The benefits of physical activity for both employees and employers are now very well known. Yet still, we live in a world where around 70 percent of adults in countries such as the US, UK and the UAE are classified as overweight.
Many clients come to us needing urgent help beca-use they are overweight, s-tressed and lacking energy and confidence. But it’s a-mazing how quickly this tu-rns around once they start dedicating more time to ex-ercise and eating healthier.
A new way of thinking
The new working routine presents a chance for employee engagement and wellbeing to flourish.
For the several decades, we have been operating in the intuitive and automatic thinking mode of System 1. Running on autopilot and taking the weekly framework as an unchallenged norm.
However, with the pandemic encouraging us to explore hybrid working models, and the longer weekend being introduced in the UAE, we now have a unique opportunity to dial up System 2 and embrace a more purposeful, rational, measured and critical way of thinking.
An opportunity that must be seized
While some people will welcome being able to finish at 12pm on Friday, others will choose to continue working until the end of the day and use it as a chance to get ahead. The real threat here, is that autopilot (System 1 thinking) will take over, and allow work to fill the free afternoon. In that moment we miss the opportunity to circuit break the ‘burnout’ and wellbeing crisis that exists today.
If someone doesn’t prioritise their own physical and mental wellbeing, they can’t expect to be the best version of themselves in their professional or social lives.
Could this become the ‘new normal’ working week?
Whether it’s reading a book, exercising or spending time with loved ones, the new shorter week is a chance for people to invest more time in themselves. It’s the perfect opportunity to rethink what’s important to us, shake up what is considered the ‘normal’ routine and change our lives for the better Now is a chance for us to ask ourselves the big questions like what are my strengths and how can I put them to work? Am I moving my body enough? How can I bring more rhythm, engagement, meaning and flourishing, positive emotion to my day-to-day life?
Studies show that productivity plummets after working 50 hours, and some experts suggest that a 35-hour week is optimal. After all, every manager knows that making people work for longer doesn’t necessarily make them better at their jobs.

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