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Consequences of people working longer and longer hours
August 25, 2018, 5:06 pm
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A recent study by the International Labor Organization (ILO) shows that more than 400 million people employed worldwide, nearly a quarter of the 1.8 billion global workforce, work for more than 49 hours per week.

The long work hours lead to an increase in onsite accidents, a rise in stress levels and higher number of physical and psychological complaints. However, the real problem is that many of the people who put in extra hours just cannot afford not to do it.

But 'long puts a very hefty price on those engaged in doing it. There is plenty of evidence that working overtime reduces your productivity, and makes you feel and actually be less healthy. It also makes you more likely to develop a whole range of diseases.

It seems self-evident: an overworked person is tired and hence more likely to have an accident at work. But proving this is surprisingly difficult. It might be that riskier jobs also have more demanding hours, or simply that people who work more hours spend more time at risk, even if they do not do overtime.

A study that analyzed 13 years of job records in the US found that working in jobs with overtime schedules was associated with a 61 percent higher injury hazard rate compared to jobs without overtime. While this specific study stops short of saying that fatigue is the primary cause of this increased risk, there is ample anecdotal evidence to suggest this might be the case.

Still, a lot of people feel trapped in the cycle — they rely on overtime to make ends meet and pay their bills. They are stuck in a system that pays or assesses their productivity based on putting in more time, or for working through the night if their clients live in another time zone.

A 2016 study found that the cortisol levels (the hormone that regulates the ‘fight or flight’ reaction and plays a role in raising stress levels) of people ‘on call’ rise faster in the mornings than those of people who are not required to be available, even if they do not end up working that day.

This hormone usually has its peak concentration when we wake up, and it decreases over the rest of the day. But scientists believe everyday stress factors tamper with its cycle in several ways: it rises faster when you expect a stressful day (researchers believe this may be the case here), its levels remain high if you are chronically stressed, and it does not rise if you are going through a ‘burnout syndrome’ – something usually preceded by a chronic stress period.

As a result, people also find it more difficult to mentally detach work from non-work, especially when they are ‘on call’, as well as choosing to do the activities that they really want — a trait researchers call ‘control’. In other words: workers do not feel like the time they are ‘on call’ is really their own, and their stress levels rise accordingly. Researchers say that days where availability is demanded cannot be considered leisure time, because recovery — a crucial function of leisure time — is restricted under such circumstances.

Working for days at a time is not smart, if you can avoid working for days at a time, just do it, as it has no positive effects on your health, your well-being, or your productivity. Even if you think you are an exception, most likely you are not.

 

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