Understanding the relation between long working hours and mental health

Working for more than 39 hours per week in your job may be snatching away valuable years from your life. Though the global working hour trends are getting stretched beyond the normal levels, people are negligent of the fact that how piling stress and long hours of inactivity are affecting their general wellbeing. Long working hours and mental health are closely related to each other. While putting long hours of effort in workplace can fetch short-term admiration and praise from the management, researches have proved that in the long run, it can be counter-productive, leading to health hazards.

A survey conducted by the University of Hong Kong could establish the psychological impact of long working hours. 35% of people working more than 50 hours a week exhibit symptoms of depression. But when it drops below 50 hours a week, the rate of mental distress fell to 27%.

What is meant by long working hours?

 long-working-hours-and-mental-health-Specifying long hours of working is debatable. Long hours of working are perceived as the marked deviation from what has been considered a normal work schedule. Assessments of long working hours are derived from direct experience, which may vary across the world. According to the Working Time Regulation (WTR) act in UK, working for more than 48 hours in a week can be termed as long hours of work.

How long working hours affect our mental and physical wellbeing?

Gone are the days of fixed nine-to-five job schedule when workers/employees could well manage pursuing other things and hobbies beyond the daily grind. Overtime work pay is the most common reason for people choosing to work for long hours.

For many workers and professionals, unpaid overtime is enforced to meet the job requirements. Cut-throat-competition in the market with prevailing uncertainty and insecurity has forced people to stretch the normal working hours to a load-breaking point.

This is something hazardous. It is high time we assess the productivity of long working hours and stress output before any disaster upsets our normal life.

Few interesting findings between long working hours and mental health:

long-working-hours-and-mental-health-Science warns against working for more than 40 hours a week. A number of organizations and researchers have made an in-depth study of assessing the physical, social, and psychological impact of long working hours and the findings can be summarized as follows:

  • 10% of people working 50-60 hours a week face relationship problems. The rate jumps to 30% for those working beyond 60 hours/week.
  • Working for more than 40 working hours/week leads to increased alcoholism and tobacco consumption. Unhealthy weight gain is seen among men and depression in women.
  • Working overtime for 11 hours or more increases the risk of depression.
  • Organizations with 8.7% overtime rate reported zero stress-related problems. When the overtime rate was 12.4%, minor stress-related problems were observed. When it hit 15.4%, there were severe fatigue-related problems.
  • Women are more likely to suffer from long working hours, especially if they have a partner. The long duration of work put women under more mental pressure affecting their health and satisfaction with life.

Long working hours and stress are tied to each other, affecting hormonal balance. Increased stress means increased level of cortisol secretion which is enough to upset appetite, sleep, blood pressure, mood, immune system, memory, and cognition.

How are long working hours and health related?

If long working hours and mental health are closely related, its effect on physical health cannot be ignored.Researchers of Columbia University Medical Center monitored 8000 workers aged 45 and above. They found the average inactivity period of the workers in the waking period was 12.3 hours.

Employees spending 13 sedentary hours every day have twice the risk of premature deaths than those spending 11.5 inactive hours per day. Researchers also confirmed sitting for long hours in the office is as damaging as smoking.

Researchers at University College London also found out a correlation between long working hours and health while tracking 85,000 workers comprising of middle-aged men and women. They found overwork can cause cardiovascular problems like irregular heartbeat or atrial fibrillation, increasing the chances of stroke by five-fold.

Working from home for long hours can be no less damaging:

WORK FROM HOMEThe close link between long working hours and mental health can also be established in those working from home. Although work from home option may seem to be pretty exciting as you can spare the time and energy spent in daily commutation, it can also impact your mental health.

According to experts, working from home creates a different set of problems that can cost your mental health dearly. Firstly, it intensifies your work, resulting in a family conflict. When you step out from office, you leave the work behind but at home, you are always dwelling with your job. And that is bad!

A majority of the work-from-home group has the tendency of converting the entire abode into working space. Documents and office items can be found everywhere. It seems work is prevalent everywhere, leaving not a single space to breathe. Doesn’t that add stress?

Work from home creates social isolation which has a great psychological impact. You miss the regular interaction with your colleagues and managers. Even moving up to the desk of another colleague or manager gives a much required mental diversion which is not possible at home.

Do long working hours result in more productivity?

A million dollar question! While lots of researches and studies are sending warning signals correlating long working hours and mental health, many organizations do not seem to heed to this.  A wrong perception exists that long working hours mean enhanced productivity and improved bottom line; while in reality, it is the reverse.

The US researcher Alex Soojung-Kim Pang is of the view that productivity of a majority of present age employees remains for four hours a day. The remaining hours go in padding and worrying. He believes a working day can be easily scaled down without affecting the organization’s productivity and the worker’s prosperity.

Another study funded by the Swedish government supported the above observation. Retirement home nurses were allowed to work 6 hours a day,but were paid an 8-hour salary. The result was fantastic! The nurses took fewer sick leaves, faced less stress, and showed higher productivity.

Long working hours can be detrimental to creativity:

CREATIVE WOMANPresent day jobs demand more creativity instead of routine work. It demands more innovations and out-of-the-box thinking to shine above others. To maintain the high level of creativity, organizations today need to weigh properly the need of long working hours and mental health of employees.

How could a mentally stressed employee after a rigorous long working day deliver to the same potential next day when he steps into the office? He will no doubt be carrying additional stress baggage.

Long-working hours – no perceived benefits:

There is no point in sucking out creativity, productivity, and freedom from employees by this unnecessary imposition. Science says organizations do not gain much out of this, rather they may lose out some best human assets.

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