Research reveals what Catholic teaching has long taught: work is meant to help us be better humans -- and parents.
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Results from the world’s largest trial of the “four day work week” were recently revealed, and they were enlightening.
Almost 3,000 people who work for dozens of companies took part in the pilot project. The companies involved could decide how they wanted to shorten their employees work week — but they all had to agree to keep wages and benefits the same, according to an article in The Washington Post.
At the end of the experiment, employees reported a variety of benefits related to their sleep, stress levels, personal lives and mental health, according to results published Tuesday. Companies’ revenue “stayed broadly the same” during the six-month trial, but rose 35 percent on average when compared with a similar period from previous years. Resignations decreased.
The employees who took part in the pilot reported that they had more time to care for their children and other family members, including elderly relatives, and fathers doubled the amount of time they spent with their children. (Interestingly, there was no change reported in the share of housework between men and women.)
Only 3 of the 61 companies that took part in the trial aren’t planning to carry on with any element of the four-day workweek going forward — the rest are not going back.
As the pilot showed, workers found greater satisfaction with their jobs and companies didn’t lose anything from their bottom line (and even made some gains) with a four-day work week. So although it may not work for every kind of business or worker, it appears to be a win-win.
It also seems to be a big win for family life, especially in light of another recent study.
Another study in the US showed that more flexible work practices leads to better parenting and healthier kids.
Maureen Perry-Jenkins, a developmental psychologist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and her team, found that “a job that offers autonomy and support for a parent in a child’s first year of life is linked to better cognitive and social outcomes and mental health for that child six years down the road.”
The study followed 370 families from the time of having their first child until that child entered first grade. All of the participants were low-wage workers. From an article in the Washington Post,
“People spend 40 hours a week at work, and that experience affects you and your mental health, your physical health, everything,” said Perry-Jenkins, who writes about the results of this study in her book “Work Matters.“
She found that while all the parents in the study loved their children, this didn’t always translate into good parenting. But mothers and fathers “who had a sense of control and efficacy at work during the first year of their child’s life were more responsive and supportive parents, and they had children with better social skills and fewer behavioral problems.”
The study also found that a father’s experience of work has a big impact on his parenting and his children.
These results show what Catholic teaching on work and the family has long taught — that work is meant to serve the human person, not the other way around. And that work should help us live out our vocations to marriage and family life. As the Catechism of the Church states in section 2428,
The primordial value of labor stems from man himself, its author and its beneficiary. Work is for man, not man for work.
If practices such as a four-day work week and greater flexibility in our work life brings higher levels of satisfaction and well-being, doesn’t hurt the company’s bottom line, and has big benefits to our families and children — perhaps it’s time to consider this in our own lives.