Wellbeing: a weekly dose of work is what we need

Chris Baker
Chris is a Reach volunteer and artist, with a background in further education.

With fewer jobs around and current concerns around mental health, there are some inspiring organisations helping people with time on their hands keep their sense of wellbeing. 

Amongst them is Rest less, a company now using Reach Volunteering’s platform extensively.  Rest less was founded in 2018 by Stuart Lewis with “the goal of creating a community that helps its audience regain their sense of purpose. It does this by guiding its members in finding fulfilling opportunities to work and volunteer.” Stuart is an experienced  business leader with who has held executive roles with a number of companies. He set up the company with co founder, Sara Stephens. Expecting most users to be in their mid 60s, he found many were much younger. He also found that contrary to some popular ageist stereotypes, users are highly digital.

Rest less was prompted by a number of factors, including Stuart’s personal knowledge of the value of intergenerational mixing. It’s a membership community, and has a variety of opportunities covering work, learning, community, lifestyle and more. So we asked Rest less why include volunteering.

'Volunteering is an excellent way for people of any age to find purpose and fulfilment in their lives', says Stuart. 'For people in their 50s, 60s and beyond, volunteering offers an opportunity to give back to a cause they are passionate about after a long career, often in an entirely different field. It also allows people to maintain social connection with others in a meaningful way. At a time when older workers can be out of work for longer than their younger counterparts, volunteering can also be a useful stop gap to maintain and develop particular skillsets whilst they are looking for a new paid role.'

At Reach we certainly agree. Research backs it up. One recent study done by a team at Cambridge University shows that only a relatively small time at work each week is really beneficial for individuals. The team was motivated by the belief that there are likely to be fewer jobs in the future. They set out to define a recommended ‘dose’ of work for optimal wellbeing. Their findings were surprising. And we think – although their research only referred to working age people – that the same might well be true for volunteers.

Their research has been recently published in in the journal Social Science and Medicine.  It shows that 'when people moved from unemployment or stay-at-home parenting into paid work of eight hours or less a week, their risk of mental health problems reduced by an average of 30%'.  Yet researchers found no evidence that working any more than eight hours provided further boosts to wellbeing. The full-time standard of 37 to 40 hours was not significantly different to any other working time category when it came to mental health. As such, they suggest that to get the mental wellbeing benefits of paid work, the most 'effective dose' is only around one day a week. Anything more makes little difference.

When people moved from unemployment or stay-at-home parenting into paid work of eight hours or less a week, their risk of mental health problems reduced by an average of 30%

Of course it’s not just about the work itself. Paul Dolan, Head of Department and Professor of Behavioural Science in Psychological and Behavioural Science at the LSE said recently,  'Social networks are fundamentally important. All of us are happier when we are spending time with people (we like being with).

'We’re at our happiest when we help other people...It’s actually a very selfish thing to be selfless. We get quite a lot of personal benefit from it. We need to help others more…And asking for help makes others happy by helping us.'

So back to Rest less. Their digital platform is attracting an ever increasing membership. Members are keen to spend some time in paid work, many in volunteering – maybe for just one day a week – and combining it with a growing range of activities. And best of all, from our point of view, directing users to sites such as Reach, to help them find the right way to share their skills.

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