Although work burnout is widely reported, we rarely hear about its impact on physical health. According to recent findings, overworking can put you at greater risk of major medical problems — and even death.
The link between overworking and health problems
A nstudy conducted jointly by researchers at The World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization discovered that working more than 55 hours a week can increase the risk of a stroke by 35% and of dying from heart disease by 17% compared to those who work between 35 and 40 hours per week.
These findings support recent campaigns calling for more flexible schedules on behalf of employees returning to in-office operations. We are, of course, currently in the midst of international 4-day week trials, in which workers will attempt to maintain productivity and quality in much shorter time.
Those trials will last for 6 months. A permanent 4-day week arrangement would call for that level of intensity as part of the “new normal” work week. What effects this could have on health remains to be seen.
The WHO researchers behind the latest report said that 745,000 people died in 2016 from illnesses that were induced by being overworked. Roughly 488 million people are exposed to the risks of working long hours around the world.
“No job is worth the risk of stroke or heart disease,” WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a recent interview.
Work has been a killer for some time
The authors determined that the number of cardiovascular-related deaths due to working long hours has been gradually increasing since the year 2000.
Between then and the end of the study period in 2018, overworking caused deaths from heart disease to rise by 42%, and deaths from stroke to increase by 19%.
Which groups are most at risk?
Men of all ages and workers who are middle-aged or older accounted for the largest share of deaths.
Regionally, the U.S, Europe, Brazil, and Canada experienced the lowest risk exposure, while Southeast Asia and workers based out of the Western Pacific region had the most exposure.
Less than 5% of U.S workers are exposed to long work hours, as per a map the WHO published alongside the study.
Is remote work making people unhealthier?
It’s possible that these numbers were influenced in some way by the remote work alternative to in-office work that occurred in response to the COVID.
“Teleworking has become the norm in many industries, often blurring the boundaries between home and work,” Ghebreyesus continued. “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.”
The authors suggest that a solution requires effort from both employers and employees. Employees would benefit from a healthy detachment from work paired with a knowledge of their limitations. WHO recommends employers avoid asking their teams to regularly work more than 55 hours per week.
This paper was published in the Environment International journal.