A recent report from the World Health Organization (WHO) has highlighted the concerning link between long work hours and loss of life and health.
According to the study, “long working hours led to 745 000 deaths [globally] from stroke and ischemic heart disease in 2016, a 29 per cent increase since 2000”.
The global analysis, facilitated by the WHO and International Labour Organization (ILO), found that “in 2016, 398 000 people died from stroke and 347 000 from heart disease as a result of having worked at least 55 hours a week.”
And if you’re wondering how that compares to earlier years, the organisations estimate that “between 2000 and 2016, the number of deaths from heart disease due to working long hours increased by 42%, and from stroke by 19%”.
The most notable findings were that this trend was most prevalent in men, with 72 per cent of the deaths affecting males. The data suggests the health impacts were most significant for “people living in the Western Pacific and South-East Asia regions,” and most of the recorded deaths were people “among people dying aged 60-79 years, who had worked for 55 hours or more per week between the ages of 45 and 74 years”.
How to better manage your work-life balance
Part of the power of this kind of research is that it arms people with very clear information about what kind of habits are harmful to their health.
The WHO shared its study concluded, “that working 55 or more hours per week is associated with an estimated 35% higher risk of a stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from ischemic heart disease, compared to working 35-40 hours a week”.
It also highlighted that data suggests more people are adopting these unsustainable work habits. Working long hours, the WHO states, is becoming more common, with 9 per cent of the global population now aligning with this trend.
On these findings, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General said:
“The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed the way many people work.“
“Teleworking has become the norm in many industries, often blurring the boundaries between home and work. In addition, many businesses have been forced to scale back or shut down operations to save money, and people who are still on the payroll end up working longer hours. No job is worth the risk of stroke or heart disease. Governments, employers and workers need to work together to agree on limits to protect the health of workers.”
If you’d like to make a change to your work schedule and begin prioritising your health more, there are a few things you can do.
As Forbes wrote in a piece on overtime (a few years back), a lot of our work habits are born out of old-fashioned ideas we personally hang on to. It’s time to begin questioning ideas like the following:
- Working longer hours means you’ll get more done
- Managing “it all” will result in a better performance review, and fast-track you to a promotion
- Everyone else is staying back, so you should do the same
- My workload is too intense, so I need to stay back to get it done
Much more often, the case is that if you’re productive with the time you have, the work you’ll deliver will be of a higher quality than if you’re pushing through when exhausted. That’s the idea the four-day working week is hinged on. Break the cycle, and you’ll also communicate to more junior team members that it’s okay to have a life outside work.
Additionally, if your manager is unaware you’re drowning in work, they’re likely to keep loading you up. It pays to voice your struggles.
If your specific job requires additional hours for whatever reason, make sure you understand your rights with regard to compensation and time off. According to the Fairwork Australia website, “An employee can work a maximum of 38 hours in a week unless an employer asks them to work reasonable extra hours. Overtime or other rates may apply to these extra hours”.
Finally, be sure to check in on your health. The Heart Foundation and Stroke Foundation in Australia are full of useful resources pertaining to risk and prevention in these areas. If you’re concerned, please chat with your doctor.