Long working hours are bad for your health; it is equivalent to smoking as reported by researchers of the Columbia University Medical Center. Logging several hours every day in office beyond the normal schedule may please your boss, not your health.
You might be deriving some extra satisfaction in this competitive professional scenario but it is taking a serious toll on your health. Therefore, it doesn’t come as a surprise when Finland’s Prime Minister floated the 4-day work week concept. The objective is to keep employees healthy and make productive.
Sitting long hours in office means adding to your sedentary lifestyle. You remain inactive, force your brain too much and the result is gradual health deterioration which can be too costly in the end. Some experts are of the opinion that it is the worker’s mentality and attitude and not hours that have serious health consequences but evidence proves otherwise.
Average working hours in the workweek:
For decades, the 9-5 work schedule has been the standard in the American Labor Law which entails 40 working hours a week considering 5 working days. Unfortunately, this 40-hour week extends to 47 hours for most Americans. In some countries, it is 50 plus hours or more taking 6 days a week. Even worse, most of the employees are not being paid extra for the extra hours devoted.
The Gallup survey reports, the average American worker working on non-hourly salary spends 49 working hours at the office with 1 in 4 spending more than 60 hours! That is almost a 12 hour shift from Monday to Friday.
How bad it is to be a workaholic?
Workaholism is by choice, not a compulsion. Still, all work and no play makes Jack a dull (read sick) boy. Many engaged workaholics seem to lead a healthy life despite being logged in to work for even 70 hours a week. It is the engagement that keeps him/her logged in.
It might be alright if a workaholic exercises regularly and takes care of his/her diet. Given 24 hours a day, a workaholic may have to make serious compromises in his/her family/social life which might not be beneficial in the future. There is also another point to be noted. Studies with healthy workaholics have lots of shortcomings.
To many experts, workaholism or addiction to work follows the similar dynamics of alcoholism, overeating and gambling. A dysfunctional background may make one person workaholic who feels that he/she must always be in charge of something. In that case, it works as a coping mechanism.
How long working hours are bad for health?
Ample researches have brought into light the health effects of overworking which is counterproductive as well. This has been proved by a series of studies conducted by the Ford Motor Company in the 1990s. Additional working hours beyond the recommended schedule may increase productivity initially but in the long run, it becomes negative. This is because stress and fatigue take over workers making them unproductive.
Side effects of working too much manifest in the following health disorders:
You become fatter:
When the obesity epidemic is taking over the global population, this is the last thing that you would like to gain. In the sitting position, you burn 50 calories less per hour than in the standing position. If you total it with 47 hours per week, imagine the calories you are piling up in the form of fat not to mention additional calorie intake through frequent unhealthy snacking.
You become prone to heart disease:
Research shows spending 4 hours or more sitting continuously every day increases the risk of heart disease by 125%. Scientists at the University College London in a study published in the European Heart Journal found that people working 55 hours or more per week have nearly 40% increased risk of developing atrial fibrillation in the next 10 years than those working 35-40 hours per week.
Another study involving 600,000 healthy workers showed those working for 55 hours or more have a higher risk of stroke by 33% and heart disease by 13% in the next 7-year span compared to those working for 35-40 hours.
You are at a higher risk of premature death:
Researchers at the Columbia University Medical Center reports employees spending more than 13 sedentary hours are at twice the risk of dying prematurely than those remaining inactive for 11.5 hours a day.
Sitting long hours in the office affects your mental health:
Your mental health gets compromised too. One of the immediate effects is prolonged fatigue that dips your productivity and affects your quality of life. Findings in a study published in 2012 reveal people working more than 11 hours per day regularly have twice the chance of getting into depression than those working 8 hours a day.
Long working hours mean less relaxation and less sleep. It also means poor family and social bonding which might trigger depression. Workers in shift duties are more affected as they experience a cognitive decline. This includes problems in remembering something, learning new things and decision-making.
Sitting glued to the desk for hours is not good for the back and neck. The result is chronic back and neck pain. This was found in a study published in the Occupational & Environmental Medicine Journal. Women are likely to suffer from neck pain. In men, the pain initiates from the lower back.
Long sitting hours cause muscle degeneration in the abs, hips and glutes. Standing and moving flexes your muscles. Moving around frequently keeps the discs in the vertebrae flexible. As you slump in the chair for a long time, your spine loses flexibility and becomes distorted giving rise to postural disorders.
Side effects of working too much can manifest in several psychiatric disorders. Even workaholics will not be spared from it. Norwegian researchers conducted a study with 16,000 adults of which 8% are workaholics. They found workaholics are more likely to suffer from ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), OCD (Obsessive-compulsive disorder) and depression than non-workaholics. They also found people working to the extreme point may have deeper psychological and emotional issues.
Deep vein thrombosis:
Sitting for long hours is not good for legs as well. It impacts the normal blood circulation in the body. As a result, fluid accumulates in the legs leading to deep vein thrombosis.
How to manage the side effects of working too much?
The best way is through better time management and enhanced self-control. Firstly, one should ponder, is it at all necessary to work for extended hours? However, if you are forced to overwork, the following tips can be handy:
Get out of the chair as frequently as you can:
Stand up and pace up and down every 1-2 hours for 5-10 minutes. This will not hamper your concentration but will freshen up your mind.
Take frequent breaks:
Although it may seem counterproductive, taking frequent breaks can help you finish your job on time. Working on something for a long time creates stress on your brain creating chances of error. A break in between improves oxygen supply to the brain and your body circulation as well. You feel recharged to bring back your focus.
Maintain your physical workouts:
To keep up with the daily stress of long working hours, maintaining regularity in physical workouts is a must. Your body and mind must be in good shape to handle the stress. This will minimize the risk of future health disasters.
Get your free time for fun and relaxation:
Working 50-60 hours a week may be like going to work, coming back home, eat and sleep and again go back to work. No free time at all. You must forcefully accommodate at least 30 minutes of fun/relaxation time whether in between work or after. Change your routine at least every two weeks. Squeeze out some time for movies, family, socialization or other entertaining activities.
Not too much of coffee:
Caffeine is an instant stimulant but too much of it is not good. Reaching out for extra cups of coffee may keep you alert for some more time. Once you get used to it, you will be needing more and more which will make you jittery. You are likely to suffer from some gastrointestinal problems.
Avoid working on weekends:
Weekends should be left for your brain and body to unwind so that you can start your week with full vigor. Dragging work on weekends will gradually dip your productivity and affect your mental and physical health.
Find enough sleep:
No compromise on this. Poor sleep is the root of many ailments. An overstressed body and mind need at least 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. The brain cells require enough time to repair and recharge.
Despite the highly competitive job scenario, working conditions are changing. Employers are thinking of better work management strategies than to send the labor force to the grave early. Employers are looking for productive employees which could be possible if only employees maintain a healthy work-life balance.