Long hours at work are contributing to health risks and early death, study reports.
A new study by the (WHO), in partnership with the International Labor Organization (ILO), has found that long working hours killing 745,000 people a year. The study is the first global report of its kind, finding “745,000 people died in 2016 from stroke and heart disease due to long hours.” WHO also found that those in South East Asia and the Western Pacific region were among those affected most greatly with health problems, and the organization shared that it believes this phenomenon will worsen due to the pandemic.
The report indicated “working 55 hours or more a week was associated with a 35% higher risk of stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from heart disease, compared with a working week of 35 to 40 hours.” And it showed “three quarters of those that died as a result of working long hours were middle-aged or older men.”
WHO officials said the recent uptick in remote work may have increased the risks associated with long working hours. And the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that people working from home during the pandemic were putting in “an average of six hours of unpaid overtime a week.” ONS added, “People who did not work from home put in an average of 3.6 hours a week overtime.”
“We have some evidence that shows that when countries go into national lockdown, the number of hours worked increase by about 10%,” WHO technical officer Frank Pega said.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed the way many people work,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “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.”
The number of people working long hours and experiencing health problems was increasing even before the pandemic according to WHO researchers reporting it was approximately “9% of the total global population.” The report indicated working long hours was estimated to be responsible for “about a third of all work-related disease.”
The pandemic in itself has increased stress levels and has had marked effects on physical, mental and emotional health. The mental health burden has increased significantly, as has public health concerns such as substance use (particularly alcohol use), domestic violence and child abuse. Employers need to consider the impact these sudden shifts have had on individuals and be mindful that increasing work hours can only make things worse.
“Working 55 hours or more per week is a serious health hazard,” added Dr 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.”