Studies Show Long Working Hours Can Be More Destructive Than Productive

We’ve known for a long time that overworking oneself can lead to a plethora of negative consequences, such as stress, anxiety and now heart disease. Even though this information has been available for some time, employees still work an extraordinary amount of overtime. Researchers have recently linked long working hours to stroke and coronary heart disease. The good news is there is something you can do about it— you can motivate your employees to be heart healthy at work!

According to the Lancet, employees who work 55 hours or more per week have a 33 percent greater risk of stroke and a 13 percent greater risk of coronary heart disease than those working regular hours. To test the relationship between overworking and heart complications, researchers looked at 25 different studies comprising data from 603,838 men and women across the United States, Europe and Australia. Dr. Mika Kivimaki (University College London) and his team merged the results of multiple studies from around the world to try to find any factors that could change the results.

To test the relationship between long working hours and stroke, specifically, 528, 908 people were tracked for about seven years, and 17 different studies were conducted. There were 1, 722 strokes recorded. The researchers found there was a one-third greater risk of having a stroke among those who worked 55 or more hours per week, compared to those who worked 35 to 40 hours per week. Naturally, workweek hours depend upon both the corporate culture and the type of occupation. According to Gallup studies in 2013 and 2014, four in 10 full-time American employees reported working 50 hours per week or more, and at least half reported working 40 hours or more per week.

“Dr. Kivimaki and his colleagues also found the risk of stroke increased as work hours lengthened. But he said, ‘we found no differences between men and women, or between older people and younger ones, or those with higher or lower socioeconomic status (The New York Times).’”

Indubitably, a greater risk of stroke and other heart complications is based upon how stressful the job is and how many hours are worked. If Person A has a less stressful job than Person B, obviously Person B is at a greater risk for health complications than Person A. Neither party should be overworked, regardless.

A recent Forbes interview was published interviewing Joe Staples, chief marketing officer at Workfront. He mentions the same Gallup study cited above regarding overworked employees:

A recent Gallup poll found that the average American workweek, which has traditionally been 40 hours, now spans more than 47. That means each week, on average, we end up clocking an entire extra day of work. Salaried workers are hit the hardest, with a full 25 percent saying they log a grueling 60 hours per week, which equals working 12-hour days from Monday to Friday, or slightly shorter weekdays with much of the weekend also on the clock.

What makes today’s workplace successful, however, is not the total number of hours worked: instead, it’s about getting the job done. That means there are days when 10 hours are required. There are also other times when seven hours are all that is needed. The problem is that many companies focus only on the “hours worked” component, and that’s not the best metric for productivity.

Keeping in mind that the focus should be on work to be accomplished, not hours worked, this move toward working longer hours has several contributing factors:

1. Employees often believe working longer hours means they’ll get more done.

2. As managers arrive at the office earlier and depart later each day, employees mimic their schedules because they believe working longer hours is necessary to gain approval.

3. Employee-fostered culture often dictates that those who work longer hours are going to be promoted more quickly for “working harder.”

4. Employers do not effectively communicate work-life expectations, so employees default to prioritizing work over life outside.

5. Finally, managers don’t have complete visibility into each employee’s workload, so they continue assigning additional work without considering existing projects and responsibilities.

So how can you help your employees de-stress and decrease their risk for cardiovascular complications?

Five Suggestions to Make Your Workplace Heart Healthy:

  1. Keep your eye off the clock. Make certain that your employees know they are not required to work over 40 hours in a workweek. In fact, let them know it is encouraged that they enjoy their time away from their worksite. If overtime is something your workplace offers, make sure they know it is optional. Many employees overwork themselves in order to impress management.
  2. Time management is key. If employees feel they do not have enough time in a workday to get everything finished, hold a time management conference or tutorial. Eight hours in a day is more than enough time to effectively execute workday tasks. Make sure your employees know how to manage their time as wisely as possible.
  3. Encourage positivity. Employees who work in a positive atmosphere where they feel safe, happy and comfortable are sure to inspire productivity and growth, rather than a hostile work environment where employees dread coming to work. After all, work is where we spend the majority of our time, so why shouldn’t it be enjoyable? In fact, laughter has been found to reduce stress hormones, lower inflammation in the arteries, and increase HDL “good” cholesterol— all while encouraging productivity.
  4. Encourage meditation. Deep breathing and inward-focused thought practices may reduce heart disease risk factors (e.g., high blood pressure).
  5. Take five. Let your employees know that if they are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, anxious, etc., it is OK to “take five.” Talk with your employees about methods they could use to de-stress during the workday. Some examples might be taking a walk in the parking lot, a quick jaunt around the office, a yoga pose or even listening to calming music with headphones. Any technique is effective if it works for them.

At the end of the day everybody wants to be able to enjoy their life outside of work. So don’t overwork your employees if they are already working their hardest. When your employees have worked their required hours, tell them to get outside to breathe in the fresh air and to feel the warm sun on their faces while daylight still lingers.