Do you insist that your staff work long hours?

Diane Hall

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Not so long ago, I wrote about the possibility of a 4-day week becoming the norm. Now that more people work from home compared to numbers before the pandemic, and due to many companies using technology to underpin flexible working hours for their staff, it’s certainly a possibility.

However, a recent global study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) suggests the opposite, i.e. that some people are working longer hours than ever before.


The highest portion of these hard-working employees are situated in South East Asia and the Western Pacific region; however, that doesn’t mean to say that UK employees don’t form part of these statistics.


The study found that people working more than 55 hours a week were 35% more likely to suffer a stroke, and that they were also 17% more likely to die of heart disease. I know people in my own network who would think nothing of working 55 hours or more each week, the majority being self-employed.


The proportion of people working long hours, according to the WHO, amounts to 9% of the global workforce. Are these individuals just busy fools who are failing to price appropriately for their time, or just people for whom work is more fulfilling and exciting than anything else they could choose to do with their time?


The WHO claims that 745,000 people die each year from working long hours. We’re not necessarily talking about people forced to slave away in remote villages so their community can eat; employees at Goldman Sachs, the globally renowned bank, for example, recently asked for an 80-hour cap to their working week.


Just days ago, Rishi Sunak suggested that we all should now return to the office so that we can effectively ‘get on’ (on what? The career ladder, the tube, our colleagues’ nerves?). I want to highlight another finding of the WHO’s report: that homeworking has seen employees working 10% more hours than they would in the office. With no time spent commuting, bosses all over the UK have been benefitting from their staff jumping straight onto their computer upon rolling out of bed.


The report also claimed that long working hours contribute to a third of all work-related conditions. Whether affecting employees physically or mentally (or both), long working hours are not conducive to a healthy work/life balance. The WHO also suggests that people made to work long hours turn to damaging practices to cope with their workloads, such as fast food or alcohol, which further impact their health.

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Person squeezing and angry stress ball.

Person squeezing and angry stress ball.

Other studies show that any extra time an employee puts in over 40 hours is, ultimately, less productive; there’s a reason that 40 hours represent the average working week. Longer hours also invite more accidents and greater physical and mental strain.


In some high-achieving workplaces, there’s sometimes a culture of competition to see who can work the most hours, as if this demonstrates deeper commitment to the job. It’s pointless, as these extra hours bring little improvement to their company’s bottom line.


In 2021, being a workaholic isn’t something anyone should aspire to be, particularly when you consider the benefits a shorter working week could bring. The pandemic has caused many people to take stock of their lives, and to assess just how much fulfilment they get from their job and the hours they work. Materialism appears to have decreased (which the pandemic is also responsible for, when it shut down various industries); if people decide to cut their cloth and enjoy more leisure time instead of more things, perhaps the reign of the workaholic will end.


Of course, given how many people have lost their jobs because of the coronavirus crisis, being in a job—however many hours they’re required to work—is bound to be more favourable than not working at all, when bills need to be paid. It’s not right, though, if employers are using this desperation as a reason to work their charges into the ground.


Whether working long hours is your choice or your employer’s, it’s not healthy. As the saying goes, no one on their deathbed wishes they’d worked more hours—quite the opposite.

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