Research reveals many are working 55-hour weeks, leading to an increase in early deaths from stroke and heart disease

Findings from the first global analysis of health risks and loss of life associated with long working hours revealed 745,000 people lost their lives as a direct result of working 55 hours or more a week.

The research found that between 2000 - 2016 there was a 29% increase in stroke and heart disease deaths due to long working hours. It’s estimated that this culture of overworking is likely to continue as a direct result of the pandemic.

Notably, heart disease and stroke were the two main conditions of this work-related disease burden and is particularly significant in men, with 72% of deaths occurring among male workers. Other categories affected were middle-aged or older people, and those living in the Western Pacific and South-East Asia who had all worked 55 hour weeks between the ages of 45 and 74 years.

Compared with the health of people capping hours at 35-40 a week, individuals enduring extremely long weeks were estimated to have a 35% higher risk of stroke, and a 17% higher risk of dying from ischemic heart disease.

The research, conducted by the World Health Organization and International Labour Organization established that working long hours, notably 55 plus hours a week, is the largest occupational disease burden.

These findings paint a bleak picture and it is thought that, with the global shift in working from home and an economic downturn as a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic, most individuals have upped their working hours; working longer, harder and in unsuitable conditions that cause further stress on the body and mind. Currently, 9% of the global population work above and beyond their contracted hours.

The pandemic has significantly impacted traditional working patterns, with many companies now blurring the boundaries between work/home life. Staff hitting 55 hours a week are at serious risk to both their physical and mental health and WHO’s General-Director Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, suggests there needs to be a collaborative effort between governments, employers and employees to combat this growing trend.

"The Covid-19 pandemic has significantly changed the way many people work. 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."

How to identify unhealthy working habits?

Lifestyle habits

Firstly, it’s important to recognise that your work-life balance scale is off and life coach Chris Cooper notes it’s not just long hours that indicate an imbalance.

"Developing unhealthy eating and drinking habits to cope with stress can creep into your daily routine, when you use sugary foods and alcohol as crutches to help you deal with the long hours you are working."

He says that pretty soon these habits can turn into unhelpful dependencies such as alcohol dependency. Take a look at Chris’ five signs your work-life scale is off balance.

Working from home

If you have been working from home over the course of the pandemic and you’ve noticed short lunch breaks and longer days at the computer becoming the norm, Fiona Thomas shares how you can make working from home work for you with the help of accredited psychotherapist Paula Coles.

Speaking up about mental health

We’re huge advocates for the power of talking, and sometimes one conversation can change everything. It can be difficult to open up in a professional capacity, but as Happiful writer Kat discovered, talking about your mental health at work can be a tool for positive change.

It’s not just staff and employees who have to make the change here and the WHO is calling for:

  • Governmental laws that ban mandatory overtime and ensure maximum limits on working time.
  • Collective agreements between employers and workers’ associations for flexi-time and maximum number of working hours.
  • Employees to share working hours to ensure that numbers of hours worked do not climb above 55 or more per week.

If you've been struggling to establish healthy working habits, it might be helpful to chat with a professional coach who can support you in making positive steps towards a work-life balance. Visit Life Coach Directory to a find professional who's right for you.