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Working long hours could be more serious for your health than you realize

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Posted at 10:35 AM, May 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-20 13:56:05-04

We all know working long hours can be tiring, but newly released numbers from the World Health Organization show just how serious that can be for our health.

The agency is attributing 745,000 deaths around the world to working long hours. They say in 2016, more than half died from a stroke and the rest from heart disease. All these people worked at least 55 hours a week and were between the ages of 45 and 74.

But a workplace wellness expert we spoke with says we need to remember to look at all the things that lead up to those more serious conditions.

“Sunday scaries has become a term, right, where you actually dread even going to work because it's you’re, you know, you're overworked and exhausted from the long hours. So, the shorter-term impacts can also impact some of our health behaviors, so poor sleep, smoking, alcohol use, an unhealthy diet, so those are the pathways that lead to those more serious health outcomes, such as heart disease and stroke,” said Dr. Tammy Allen, distinguished professor of industrial-organizational psychology at the University of South Florida.

She says if this is something you want to talk to your employer about, be sure to go into the conversation with a solution-oriented mindset. For example, if there is something that is causing extra work for everyone, how can that be fixed?

Employers should also make sure their staff is taking proper breaks throughout the day and using all of their paid vacation time. This has especially been an issue during the pandemic.

Some companies have even started using paid incentives so people will take time off.

Another issue is making sure employees have the proper resources to make the best use of their time at work.

“It’s not just about the hours, it's also about the meaningfulness of the job, so you know, employers can also think about how to, you know, not just focus on reducing hours, but how can we create high-quality work that's meaningful to individuals?” said Dr. Allen.

Dr. Allen says there’s also work to be done at the federal level to help reduce long hours, things like time off policies, paid parental leave, paid sick leave, and even affordable childcare.

She says workers who have dependable childcare are often less stressed and more productive at work.