Thursday, 7 April 2011

Long hours culture

Research published today suggests that those who regularly work more than 11 hours a day put themselves at increased risk of heart disease. In fact, their risk of heart attack goes up by a whopping 67%, according to a study from University College London which has been tracking the health of 7,000 civil servants since 1985.

This suggests a working week of 55 hours, rather than the 40 hour week one might suppose. Apart from the obvious question about what it was that civil servants found to do for 11 hours a day, it also begs the question as to how effective anyone can be when working such long hours. It's a well-established fact that working long hours is bad for both concentration and productivity, as well as health.

But the UK has the longest working week in Europe. The average hours worked by full timers in the UK is 43.5 a week, in France it's 38.2 hours a week and in Germany it's 39.9. And - get this - their productivity rates are higher, even though they work shorter hours. The European directive is for a maximum of 48 hours a week, and 1 in 8 British workers does more than this.

And a report published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2009 showed that those workers clocking up more than 55 hours a week have poorer mental skills, including short-term memory and ability to recall words, than those working fewer than 41 hours. Researchers concluded that the extreme tiredness and stress engendered by the long hours culture was as bad for the health as smoking, a known risk factor not just for heart disease but also for dementia.

In Japan they call it karoshi and in China they call it guolaosi, but there is no word in English for working yourself to death. But time and time again, it has been shown that not only is working long hours counter-productive in terms of effectiveness, it should now come with a Government health warning.

It's not a happy scenario, but it does provide useful ammunition when countering the demands of the pervasive long hours culture and the blight of presenteeism which is often an attempt to cover-up poor performance.

As Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University Management School says, work smarter not longer - you'll concentrate better and get more done.

1 comment:

  1. Work to live and not live to work.

    Yes it should carry a 'Government health warning' but what happens when one works for the 'Government'

    Perhaps an English word that could describe someone who works too much - 'Mug'

    Thank you