Working to Live, or Living to Work?

(Photo: Republica)

By Eliza Gill – Contributor

Lockdown shone a light on many things that we take for granted and simply accept. The average person’s workweek was put under a microscope when Boris Johnson announced – rather vaguely – that people should be working from home if they can. This meant no more 7am, bleary-eyed commutes for many individuals. It made space for more time with family, rather than with coffee-cup clutching strangers. But what more did the magnification of the average workweek show us?

A ‘full-time’ job consists of working 35+ hours a week in the United Kingdom; this is also true for France and many other European countries. In America, however, for people aged between 25 and 54, the average is 40.5 hours a week. As an individualistic country, America’s statistics don’t come as much of a surprise. What does come as a surprise, however, is the new flurry of countries wanting to trial the 4-day work-week. The idea had been floating around for a while, but never taken seriously. That is, until the pandemic brought to light the mental impact of long hours, and the way in which we put our personal lives on the back-burner in order to get ahead with work.

Teachers are an example of this; they sign contracts to work 180 days a year, but with planning, marking, and the training, the hours exceed the weekly average. According to We Are Teachers, an extra 300 hours are spent marking, 140 hours extra are spent planning lessons, and 40 extra hours are spent on emails and communication. It seems with the teaching profession, living to work is the way of life.

The global mindset on the work-life balance is beginning to shift, however. From 2015-2019 Iceland trialled the 4-day work week. It had overwhelming success; workers’ productivity was the same, or greater, and workers reported being less stressed and burnt-out. Now, 86% of Iceland’s workforce have moved to shorter hours for the same pay, in order to gain this increased work-life balance. Due to this, Spain weighed in on the conversation, and have entered talks to begin a trial of the same nature. There are a multitude of benefits to be had from shorter work weeks – from better mental health, to an increase in jobs on the market; finally, a political conversation about work, quality of life, and unemployment is beginning to be had.

Mental health has become a pillar in society, and conversations surrounding a healthy work-life balance are more important than ever. The pandemic has made us realise that while a job needs to pay the bills, it does not need to dictate our lives, and we should not sacrifice our mental health for work. The notion that life is for living is becoming more accepted, and with more trials for a shorter work week, we may just have the time to experience it.


Leaker, Debra. Office of National Statistics. 2022.

Four-day week an ‘overwhelming success’. BBC,  2021

McLoud, Shannon. ‘I Get Paid for 180 Days of Work Each Year, but I Actually Work More Than 250’. WeAreTeachers, 2019

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