Could Working Long Hours be Affecting your Health?

Posted on 17 September, 2012 by Kirsten Kennedy

For many commercial property workers in the current double dip recession, working overtime has become a way of showing how dedicated to their jobs they are, in order to avoid the unemployment line should their employers announce cutbacks in the near future. Mounting stress about dwindling disposable income, the unemployment crisis and businesses going into administration on a daily basis has meant that health often takes a back seat to the workplace.

However, researchers in a major study this week have warned that the sometimes extreme extra hours worked by British employees could have long term health implications, and that taking on overtime hours can increase the risk of employees contracting heart disease by 80 per cent.

Scientists at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health analysed twelve studies dating back as far as 1958, in which more than 22,000 people globally have participated in. They found that people who work longer than the standard eight hour day were in fact putting themselves at risk of a heart attack or stroke, with their chances of having one or the other increased by between 40 and 80 per cent.

Dr Marianna Virtanen, the lead researcher in the study, claimed that the reason for the high trend for heart disease could be due to “prolonged exposure to stress.” However, she also pointed out that workers often eat at their desks or on the go, meaning that a quick unhealthy lunch is often the quickest option for them. Additionally, more time at work leaves less time for stress busting leisure pursuits and exercise to keep the body in optimum condition.

Dr Virtanen, in a report released with the findings of the study, said; “There are several potential mechanisms that may underlie the association between long working hours and heart disease.”

Yet it seems that British workers often have very little choice about staying in their workplaces for longer hours, with official figures showing that Britons put in some of the longest hours at work in Europe. In fact, full time employees work an average of 42.7 hours a week, putting them 2.7 hours into the “at risk” group highlighted by Dr Virtanen’s study.

German workers come in just after British employees, working an average of 42 hours per week, while Danish commercial property workers have a comparatively leisurely 39.1 hour working week.

With upwards of five million people in Britain estimated to have worked unpaid extra hours each year in order to keep their jobs, it appears that many are now even risking their health without even receiving a proper wage to do it. But with no end to the recession in sight, and an aura of tension in many British commercial property businesses as to their financial state of affairs, it seems that this is simply a problem which is set to continue in modern day Britain.

Do you ever work unpaid overtime in your  workplace? If forced to, would you prioritise your health over remaining in a job that could lead to you contracting heart disease in later life, or would you simply do what your boss told you in an attempt to remain in employment long term?

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