40-hour week? How to find out how much work is actually good for you

5 Aug ‘22
6 min
Work performance
Annemarie Andre
Woman jumping in the air
“Work hard, play hard,” “Work first, pleasure later!” and “The early bird catches the worm!” are sayings we all hear when we start our careers. Work-life balance is an issue debated by many countries, and while some are working to introduce a four-day week, other business communities such as the German one are in favour of higher weekly working hours and more overtime. 


In this article, you’ll learn how to free yourself from common beliefs and convictions around work. We’ll also give you useful tools to help you determine the right workweek for you and work “smart” instead of “hard.” 


How much work is good for us?


3,300 workers from 70 different companies – from takeaways to large financial firms – are trying out the 4-day week in the United Kingdom right now. The country is taking part in the world’s largest pilot of the 4-day week, which is expected to last six months.  


Iceland, too, has already tested shortened working hours with full pay compensation and considered the project a complete success. At the moment, there is a big gap between the still common “hustle culture”, the German work ethic and the Scandinavian projects. 


Regardless of these discussions, how can you find out how much work is good for you and how can you actually adjust your working hours – finances permitting? 


Impact of work hours on mental health


It’s no secret that our personal lives influence our work, and vice versa. And, of course, the time we spend at work also affects our mental well-being. Employees at a company in New Zealand who also took part in the 4-day workweek pilot project confirm that stress levels dropped by 7% and overall satisfaction increased by 5% after the project ended.


So is working less the solution for everyone? Not necessarily. 


“Every person has a different area in which they function optimally,” says psychologist Ida Dommerholt, and continues, “Some people need mental stimulation, others need a lot of rest. Some people work quickly and can process a lot of information in a week, others work more intensively and need to concentrate harder.” 


In addition, different jobs would also have different requirements. Ida Dommerholt knows, “There is no one-size-fits-all solution!” 


Check-in with yourself!


To find out which form of work suits you best, you can do a check-in with yourself. You can ask the following questions:


  • How do you feel? 
  • What is your energy level? 
  • How do you feel about going to work?
  • How does your energy level change throughout the week?
  • Do you find it easy to stay focused at work?
  • Do you like the activities you mainly perform?
  • Are you satisfied with your work-life balance?

Take pen and paper and answer these questions in detail. This can help you figure out if your mental stimulation matches your own mental capacity. You can also think about your expectations of yourself – you don’t have to do everything on your own.


Too much can also affect you physically. Watch out for the following symptoms:


  • Sleep problems
  • Neglect of social contacts
  • Problems taking care of yourself (e.g., working out, cooking)
  • Not being able to pay attention at home
  • Being easily irritable
  • Lack of creativity


Overwork is not only related to how long you work, but is often related to how busy you are. When you feel overworked, your cortisol (stress hormone) levels rise – which also affects your physical health.


But too little work or boring tasks are also not good. This leads to boredom, sleep problems and a feeling of restlessness. Mental stimulation can also come from different areas of your life. Read more about how you can regain lost motivation here.


“I had a client who was no longer able to pay attention at home”, explains psychologist Ida Dommerholt. “She just didn’t have the mental capacity to listen to her family anymore. After adjusting her work schedule, she was able to spend time alone again and enjoy time with her family more. She also noticed that she enjoyed work more and was less irritable and stressful there.” 


Learn more about setting boundaries at work here

“Every person has a different area in which they function optimally. Some people need mental stimulation, others need a lot of rest. Some people work quickly and can process a lot of information in a week, others work more intensively and need to concentrate harder. There is no one-size-fits-all solution!”

How can you adjust your work hours?


Are you still in doubt about reduced hours or having trouble figuring out what really suits you now? Then maybe this step-by-step plan by Ida can help you reflect:


  1. Identify your needs
  2. Question your belief that you have to work 40 hours (this was developed in a time when one person worked and the other took care of the household)
  3. Work “smart, not hard” – you may still need to find your optimal workspace
  4. Make a decision that is good for YOU
  5. Do a cost-benefit analysis (“Maybe I’ll make less, but I’ll also save on delivery service because I’ll have more time to cook”)
  6. Experiment with different formats before deciding on your new format 
  7. Think about different forms of part-time work (total hours per week and distribution of work days and your days off) 
  8. Don’t hesitate to take action and don’t wait for burnout symptoms to arrive or relationships to break down


Everyone is productive in a different way and faces different challenges in their personal lives. Therefore, you may want to adjust your weekly work hours to benefit your mental capacity.


Are you struggling to find the optimal work-life balance and prefer to talk about it in person? Then book a conversation with Ida or one of our psychologists, we are here to support you.