Working long hours is literally killing you

They say working longer hours can enhance your performance — but could it also be killing you?

Working 55 hours or more a week increased the risk of stroke and resulted in a higher risk of dying from heart disease compared to workers that worked traditional workweeks of 35 to 40 hours, according to the World Health Organization.

The new research, which comes as a global study by WHO, found that 745,000 people died in 2016 alone due to stroke and heart disease linked to working long hours.

The worrying revelation comes after many Americans admitted they’ve been working more during the COVID-19 pandemic than they did when they were in the office, but there is one caveat: the majority of people most affected live in South East Asia and the Western Pacific region.

Employees in the Asia-Pacific region work some of the longest working hours globally, according to research, with 46% of employees in Hong Kong working more than 50 hours per week, according to research. More than a third of workers in Sri Lanka and Malaysia also worked extended hours, which has been linked to decreased job security.

The study, which was published in Environment International, said 398,000 people died from stroke and 347,000 from heart disease as a result of working at least 55 hours a week. Compared to people that worked 35-40 hours a week, those that worked longer hours had a 35% higher risk of a stroke and 17% higher risk of dying from heart disease.

Seventy-two percent of deaths occurred among males, with most of the deaths among people aged 60-79 years that had worked 55 hours of more weekly between the ages of 45 and 74.

“Working 55 hours or more per week is a serious health hazard,” Dr. Maria Neira, director at the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health at WHO, said. “It’s time that we all, governments, employers, and employees wake up to the fact that long working hours can lead to premature death”.

The increased chances of death due to a heightened workload is a troubling trend that’s gained momentum in the past two decades. The number of deaths from heart disease and stroke rose significantly, increasing by 42% and 19%, respectively, between 2000 and 2016.

While the study doesn’t brush on the recent work trends of the pandemic, WHO said that remote working is “accelerating developments” that could increase work times in employees. Studies from earlier in the pandemic found that the average workday had increased by almost 40% in the US — or an extra three hours on average.

Is remote work becoming a problem?

Part of the problem is workers are always connected, but also employees aren’t working the standard 9-to-5 that they would at the office. In an effort to mitigate workload due to at-home needs, some workers have extending the day to make up for lost time during their normal shift.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed the way many people work,“ WHO Director Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement. “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.”