How working 40 hours a week is killing your mental health

Americans are notorious for working long hours for a static salary. With the hopes of chasing big bonuses, many of us are reluctant to take advantage of our negotiated vacation days and are willing to work 40+ hours a week on a regular basis.

However, a recent study shows working more than 39 hours a week may be doing us more harm than good in regards to our mental and physical health. While the big bonus may help us out in the short term, the consequences of working long hours each week may actually be hurting us more than we realize.

Research suggests long hours may not be worth it

A study by the Australian National University published in the Journal of Social Science and Medicine evaluated data from 8,000 employed Australian men ranging in age from 24 to 64. 

Dr. Huong Dinh, the lead researcher on the project, stated, “long work hours erode a person’s mental and physical health because it leaves less time to eat and look after themselves properly.”

Most of us can certainly attest to our poor eating habits when we run up long hours during the week. Our meals become infrequent and usually whatever we can quickly consume without much attention to nutritional content.

The Australian study found that optimal work hours vary by gender. Researchers suggest the average healthy limit for women was around only 34 hours per week. However, for men, the healthy limit in some cases could extend to 47 hours per week. 

Either way, both of these estimates are less than the 80-year-old standard set by the International Labour Organization. The previous standard indicated a belief that it is healthy to work up to 48 hours each week without adverse effects. 

What this means for employees

As more of the workforce continues to work from home, reducing work hours by focusing on increased productivity may be a viable option. Traditional organizations expect workers to be at their desks for a certain number of hours, regardless of work product attained.

With the push for more virtual and streamlined processes, employers are starting to look less at the amount an employee sits in a chair and more about the product they deliver.

Working with your employer to meet certain deadlines and produce specific results can reduce the amount of time required to be in the office.

Why women may be at a disadvantage

Based on the research study, Dr. Dinh found “despite the fact that women on average are as skilled as men, women on average have lower paid jobs and less autonomy than men, and they spend much more time on care and domestic work.”

He further stated, “Given the extra demands placed on women, it’s impossible for women to work long hours often expected by employers unless they compromise their health.” 

This is not to say women are any less capable than men because this has obviously been proven otherwise.

However, many employers and families put uneven burdens upon female employees with additional tasks and family obligations.