Future of Work

Is part-time working the key to happiness?

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Emma Luxton
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Evidence from the Netherlands suggests it might be. More than half of Dutch workers are on part-time hours, a much larger proportion than any other developed country, while the Netherlands consistently ranks as one of the world's happiest countries.

On average, only a fifth of the working population in the EU has a part-time job (8.7% of men and 32% of women). However, in the Netherlands 26.8% of men and 76.6% of women work fewer than 36 hours a week.

 Percentage of adults who work part time.
Image: The Economist

The Netherlands also consistently features in the World Happiness Report’s top 10, and Dutch children are deemed the happiest in the developed world by UNICEF.

So, have the Dutch found the holy grail of work-life balance?

Why time matters for happiness

Time, and how we spend it, is unsurprisingly one of the most significant factors in making us content. A study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, 2011 looked at the connection between how people spend their time and their levels of happiness, and found it’s not just what we do with our free time that counts.

In an interview with Stanford Graduate School of Business, Jennifer Aaker, a researcher on the study, said: “We spend most of our time at work. So understanding how we should be spending our time at work is much more important than people think.

“It has been interesting to observe which companies are doing a good job of creating opportunities for employees to manage their own time,” she said.

“This goes beyond providing opportunities for flexible hours, telecommuting, and independent contractor relationships. Which companies are allowing opportunities for employees to fundamentally design how they spend their time both at work and outside of work – in ways that are creative and innovative?”

The happiest people have stronger meaningful social connections and spend time with their partners, friends and family, according to the study.

Another study, from the University of British Columbia, also found that people who prioritized time over money tended to be happier.

“Having more free time is likely more important for happiness than having more money,” lead researcher Ashley Whillans said.

The research suggests that embracing the free time you have and making the most of it is the key to happiness.

Consistently working overtime has also been proven to negatively impact your mental health and wellbeing.

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