We’ve already shattered the myth that longer working hours somehow means you’re more productive — the truth is usually longer hours mean less good, solid work. Now there’s also research that strongly suggests long hours are also bad for your health. Here’s the data to back it up.
Photo by Alan Cleaver
The OECD, or the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, examined the relationship between premature death in developed countries and working hours in those countries. It then plotted the data on a scatter graph (shown below) that put those average annual working hours against “potential years of life lost” (PYLL), aggregated across the population. The results were very clear:
PYLL is a measure of premature mortality, which estimates the average number of years a person would have lived if they had not died prematurely. It gives more weight to deaths among younger people and may therefore be a better measure of mortality. The higher the value of PYLL, the worse.
Longer working hours seem to lead to higher premature mortality. (For stats nerds: the strength of the relationship is significant, with an r-squared of 0.2). The implication that over-work is bad for you chimes with lots of research (such as here, here and here) which links long working hours with poor health. Stress, for example, can contribute to range of problems like heart disease and depression. That was, indeed, what the philosopher Bertrand Russell argued back in the 1930s. Overwork, said Russell, led to “frayed nerves, weariness, and dyspepsia”.
There are sone outliers. South Korea, for example, has very long working hours, but its PYLL is remarkably low, and Hungary shows the opposite, where working hours are relatively low, but PYLL is remarkably high (partially due to high stress levels in the population.) The lesson is clear though: sometimes you really do just need to stop working and go home , and remember to take your holidays.
Get a Life — Or Face the Consequences [The Economist]