Long working hours are killing us, and working from home does not help.
The World Health Organization (WHO) joined with the International Labour Organization and released the findings from the first global study of the loss of life associated with longer working hours.
The biggest takeaway from the paper in the journal Environment Internationalis is that 745 000 people died in 2016 from stroke and heart disease due to working long hours.
That’s nearly a 30% increase from the year 2000, reports Reuters.
The people shown to be most at risk were men middle-aged or older, with effects (and even deaths) often hitting them later in life.
It also showed that people living in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific region, defined by WHO as including China, Japan, and Australia, were the most affected.
The report said working long hours is the largest occupational disease burden, estimated to be responsible for about a third of all work-related disease:
Overall, the study – drawing on data from 194 countries – said that working 55 hours or more a week is associated with a 35% higher risk of stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from ischemic heart disease compared with a 35-40 hour working week.
The WHO also said the trend may have worsened due to the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the study period being between 2000 and 2016, because of the surge in remote working.
The BBC with more:
“We have some evidence that shows that when countries go into national lockdown, the number of hours worked increase by about 10%,” WHO technical officer Frank Pega said.
Furthermore, in the UK, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that people working from home during the pandemic were putting in an average of six hours of unpaid overtime a week, whereas people were putting in 3,6 hours overtime a week when not working from home.
Working from home, people are less likely to find a balance between work life and time off.
I can see how this works, especially since your ‘office’ is in your living space and your job responsibilities are screaming at you from the devices you probably also use to try and relax.
According to the research, there are two ways that longer working hours can lead to poor health outcomes:
Firstly through direct physiological responses to stress, and secondly because longer hours meant workers were more likely to adopt health-harming behaviours such as tobacco and alcohol use, less sleep and exercise, and an unhealthy diet.
I know of some people who took up smoking just so that they could get more break advantages on the job.
32-year-old Andrew Falls left his service engineer job, based in Leeds, because of the toll it was taking on his physical and mental health:
“Fifty to 55 hour weeks were the norm. I was also away from home for weeks on end.”
“Stress, depression, anxiety, it was a cauldron of bad feedback loops,” he says. “I was in a constant state of being run down.”
If that is relatable, I hope this comes as a sign for you to take stock of the hours you’re working and decide if they’re worth it in the end.
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