long working hours

Long working hours leading to thousands of deaths

Long working hours leading to thousands of deaths


Long working hours are leading to thousands of deaths due to heart disease and strokes. This is becoming particularly prevalent among men and middle-aged or older workers. The pandemic has accelerated developments that could contribute towards the trend of long working hours. More than half of UK employees have been expected to work outside of regular working hours. The World Health Organization (WHO) has described working more than 55 hours a week as a ‘serious health hazard’. It brings impacts such as burnout, and in more serious cases can contribute to death from heart disease and strokes.


Research by the WHO and International Labour Organisation found that in 2016, 745,000 people across the world died from strokes or ischemic heart disease related to working at least 55 hours a week. This has increased by 29% since 2000 and almost three-quarters were among males (72%). Working 55 hours per week increases the risk of stroke by 35% and ischemic heart disease by 17%, compared with working 35-40 hours per week. Generally, the deaths occurred much later in life, sometimes decades later than when the long hours were worked. However, just because these impacts occur later on in life it shouldn’t take away from the seriousness.


There are two ways that longer working hours could lead to poor health outcomes. Firstly, through direct psychological responses to stress experienced during work. Secondly, because longer hours may result in workers picking up health-harming habits such as smoking, drinking, sleeping less, reducing exercise, and adopting an unhealthy diet.


Other impacts of long working hours


  • Damaged family life
  • Stress
  • Mental Health problems (31% have seen a direct impact on their mental health, stating they have felt depressed, anxious, or suffered from exhaustion)
  • Fatigue
  • Diminished productivity
  • Increased presenteeism within companies, with 29% admitting to working through illness.


Blurred lines between work and home


During the pandemic, many businesses are showing an ‘always on’ culture due to increased home working. Companies are continuing to push people to their limits with complete disregard for their personal wellbeing. This isn’t the best culture to get stuck in. A technical officer from the WHO has said that they have some evidence that shows hours worked increase by 10% when countries go into national lockdown. This is more than likely due to an increased workload. A study of UK employees found that 55% were struggling to keep their workload within working hours. In the UK, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that those working from home during the pandemic were working 6 hours overtime unpaid a week. This is compared to 3.6 hours for those who do not work from home. There could be several reasons for this.


Combatting long working hours during the pandemic


  • A limit of hours worked should be set in order to protect the health of workers.
  • HR teams should encourage employees to take sick leave when needed, highlighting the importance to take it if needed, even if they are working from home.
  • As employers, you should be aware of how many hours your employees are working weekly and encourage them to not work overtime excessively.
  • Address signs of long working hours


Distractions at home


Whilst some genuinely will work excessively long hours, many of us are victims to distractions that occur throughout the day. These rob us of our working time and therefore many will end up working longer hours to compensate.  The brain 25 minutes to fully refocus after a disruption. Consequently, the little distractions that we face on a day-to-day basis such as emails, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, etc. can actually rob you of 25 minutes. This means the need to work later into the day to catch up on tasks.


Simple steps to reduce this:


  • Disable alerts on your phone that will cause a distraction
  • Set a time in your diary for certain tasks like you would when you schedule meetings. Do this for all activities as it will enable you to manage your time more effectively.
  • If you are focusing on a task, e.g. a contract, do not go onto emails. This only disrupts you from the task at hand.
  • Not every task has equal urgency. Prioritise those tasks that are urgent that day to complete first, and so on.
  • Plan for tomorrow as it provides you with a structure for the following day, making you feel organised and ready for the day the next morning. It will also help you to feel less stressed when you go home.


If you have any concerns or would like to discuss the topics within this article further, please get in contact with the HPC team today. 


T: 0844 800 5932

E: contact@highperformanceconsultancy.com

Twitter: @HPC_HRServices

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