Working for long hours? WHO warns against serious health hazards

World Health Organisation looks into the effects of long working hours on people, especially when working from home. (Study finds men are most vulnerable)
Here how working for long hours affects your physical health
Here how working for long hours affects your physical healthImage: The Bridge Chronicle

With work from home becoming the latest norm of working, the number of hours people spend working has increased drastically. Since now there is no longer a concept of being in office — meetings, zoom calls go on even past official working hours. But a recent study recognises working for more than 55 or more hours per week, is associated with serious health repercussions. According to the study, working for such long hours led to an estimated 35 per cent increase in the risk of a stroke, and a 17 per cent higher risk of dying from ischemic heart disease. These risks were compared to the effects of regular working hours of 35-40 hours a week.

The study becomes more relevant, in times when people are struggling to draw a line between professional life, and personal life. Additionally, these blurry lines have led to a lot of distresses in the working community. There is also an increase in stress related to these long working hours. The study conducted by the World Health Organization and the International Labour Organisation cited the example of the year 2016 when 398,000 people died from a stroke and 347,000 from heart disease as a result of having worked at least 55 hours a week. The findings are published in Environment International.

Following the study, we asked a few working professionals about how their experience with work-from-home has been.

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Rahul Sathe, working as a marketing manager with a multinational company said, "at first, it felt like I couldn't ask for anything better. But now, I miss my office. I moved back home following the lockdown and haven't left still. It is taking a toll on me mentally because I feel like I am always working. If not working I am always thinking about work."

Sharing similar inputs, Rushali Pansare a business development executive said, "Last night I was up till 3:30 am because it is difficult to get time with people. It is a vicious circle, everyone is working throughout the day and so calls get pushed to late nights. But we cannot do away with it because these calls are important for us." "I feel like the year 2020 and 2021 have drained me out completely."

Gaurav Seth an IT professional shares, " I started my job last year. This is my first job and I already feel burnt out. I know I don't have much to compare with, but I have no routine left and I can see how badly it has affected my health. I used to work out but now I am up so late I cannot wake up in the morning for anything."

The irony is that some are out of work while some have to struggle with intense hours of work. Especially in times of the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown while people try to deal with the mental repercussions of working for long hours, it is important to understand how long hours of work can affect us both mentally and physically.

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It is more important because work from home for most companies has been increased till January 2022, which will be almost 3 years of working from home. However, if the pandemic continues beyond that, it will take a major toll on people's health.

"The Covid-19 pandemic has significantly changed the way many people work," said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, 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," Ghebreyesus added.

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Who is more vulnerable?

According to the findings of the study, the long hours of work-related diseases were more prevalent in men. Data suggests that 72 per cent of deaths occurred among males, people living in the Western Pacific and South-East Asia regions, and middle-aged or older workers.

The deaths recorded were among people dying between the age of 60-79 years. these people had worked for more than 55 hours a wekk between the age of 45- 74 years.

"Working 55 hours or more per week is a serious health hazard," said Maria Neira, Director, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, at the World Health Organization.

"It's time that we all, governments, employers, and employees wake up to the fact that long working hours can lead to premature death," Neira said.

However, we understand that the data might not be proof that long working hours can long hours of work and affect both your mental and physical health. Extensive studies have been conducted to understand these effect. A study published in the Us National Library of Medicine suggests that chronic fatigue, stress, depressive state, anxiety, sleep quality depreciation, all-cause mortality, alcohol use and smoking increased due to long hours of work. The study looked at comprehensive data from years ranging between 1998 -2018.

This proves that when working long hours, it is not only that our mental health is at stake but also our physical health. Sometimes it is difficult to avoid long working hours but then as long as possible, especially when working from home, we must learn to manage our time for better health.

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