Working so much is no longer an exaggerated or dramatic expression for many people, as it is literally causing the death of 750,000 individuals each year from ischemic heart disease and stroke.
This finding comes from a joint study conducted by the World Health Organization and the International Labor Organization.
A significant 9% of the global population, including children, is experiencing excessive workloads. The research, published in various scientific journals, such as the Synergist, reveals that overwork is the primary factor contributing to occupational diseases, accounting for approximately one-third of the overall burden of work-related illnesses. The study quotes Frank Pega, the lead author and a technical specialist from WHO, expressing surprise at the magnitude of this burden.
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In this study, researchers meticulously analysed data on long working hours, defined as 55 hours or more per week, and their impact on health and mortality rates across numerous countries between 2000 and 2016. The authors considered control factors, including gender and socioeconomic status, to isolate the pure effects of excessive work on health.
Excessive workloads can harm health and decrease longevity in two ways.
Firstly, chronic stress has a biological impact, leading to elevated levels of stress hormones that cause hypertension and increased cholesterol levels.
Secondly, behavioural changes occur, such as inadequate sleep, lack of exercise, consumption of unhealthy food (often while working on a computer or during commutes), as well as smoking and drinking, to cope with long days. These habits eventually take a toll on one's health.
According to the data, overwork affects different groups of workers. Here are a few examples:
1) Men work longer hours than women in all age groups.
2) Overwork reaches its peak in early middle age, although the health effects may manifest later. (The authors employed a 10-year lag period to track the effects of overwork relative to the onset of diseases since "death by overwork" does not occur overnight.)
3) People in Southeast Asia tend to have the longest working hours, while Europeans have the shortest.
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4) Many Europeans enjoy a work culture that prioritises extended vacations and significant rest periods. This more relaxed approach is even enshrined in law, such as the European Union's Working Time Directive, which prohibits employees from working more than an average of 48 hours per week.
5) However, outside of France and the Scandinavian countries, there has been an increasing proportion of highly skilled workers in some European countries working extreme hours since the 1990s.
The authors of the study urge employers to embrace flexible employment, job sharing, and other methods to improve work-life balance. They also emphasise the need for employers to take occupational health services seriously.