Explainer: Why long work hours are injurious to health

Explainer: Why long work hours are injurious to health

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From cardiovascular disease and heightened stress levels, to depression, anxiety and compromised sleep quality, the impact of the hustle culture on physical and mental health is scientifically established.

Billionaire businessman and Infosys co-founder NR Narayana Murthy recently suggested on a podcast that young professionals should work 70 hours a week to give India’s productivity a boost. Amidst the heated social media debates that followed, First Check takes a hard look at the hustle culture from a health lens.

What is hustle culture?

It promotes the idea that to achieve one’s professional goals, one must work tirelessly, sacrificing sleep and personal time. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has some thought-provoking data on countries with the longest working hours.

While long hours at the office are often associated with dedication to one’s job, they also raise concerns about work-life balance and the impact on physical and mental health. “Gwarosa” in South Korea and “karoshi” in Japan are terms used to describe death by overwork, and they highlight the dire consequences of the relentless pursuit of professional success.

The price to be paid

Long hours at work, inadequate sleep, and constant stress can lead to myriad health issues. Research findings emphasise the deleterious effects of long working hours on occupational health. Chronic sleep deprivation, a common consequence of the hustle culture, often leads to conditions such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.

According to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO) and International Labour Organization (ILO), in 2016, an estimated 7,45,000 fatalities were attributed to stroke and ischemic heart disease due to prolonged working hours, marking a 29% increase from the year 2000. These deaths were primarily linked to working at least 55 hours per week. Additionally, research concluded that extended work hours elevate the probability of various health risks, including cardiovascular disease, heightened stress levels, depression, anxiety, compromised sleep quality, increased alcohol consumption, smoking, and an overall elevated risk of all-cause mortality.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that work-related fatigue is often linked to unconventional work schedules, including night shifts and extended periods of work. Research shows that, in comparison to a standard 40-hour workweek, the likelihood of experiencing work-related burnout is twofold higher when individuals work for more than 60 hours per week.

A recent study also reveals how work-related stress is a leading cause of psychological distress and mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression. The constant stress and anxiety that come with maintaining a breakneck pace can lead to burnout, a condition characterised by emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and reduced professional efficacy.

Striking a healthy balance

An interesting study finds that employees can experience enhanced productivity when engaged in 50-hour workweeks. Nonetheless, the findings also indicate that productivity experiences a substantial decline when individuals extend their work hours beyond 55 hours per week.

It's crucial to acknowledge the importance of rest and self-care. Finding time for regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy diet, and getting adequate sleep are essential for good health. Seeking professional help, such as therapy or counselling, can be a valuable resource for managing stress and preventing burnout.

The hustle culture is a double-edged sword that may lead to professional success, although at a significant health cost. It’s essential to navigate this landscape with caution, keeping employee health as a key priority. Success, after all, is most meaningful when it’s achieved with a healthy body and a sound mind.