How Long a Work Day Is Bad for Your Health?

How Long a Work Day Is Bad for Your Health?

By Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
October 07, 2015

Eleven hours a day ups your chance of stroke, heart disease, and depression.

Around the world, about 20 percent of people with jobs work more than 45 hours a week, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. If you love your work, you may scoff at studies that report the bad effects of long hours on big populations. But even for the most enthusiastic workers, long hours tends to mean eating late or less healthily and less sleep, exercise, de-stressing, and time with people you care about.

If you’re stressed out and overworking, look for ways to cut back your hours and — you guessed it — stay on a good diet and increase all those healthy activities, like exercise.

In the short term, your body responds to stress by pumping out hormones that may increase your blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar. Over time, chronic stress contributes to emotional distress, obesity, heart disease, and a host of other health issues.

For motivation to have a talk with your boss, here’s some of the most recent evidence that overworking taxes your health:    

  1. A meta-analysis of studies covering more than 600,000 people around the world concluded that people who work 55 hours a week had a 33 percent higher risk of stroke than people who worked only 40 hours. The chances of heart disease were 13 percent higher. Working 40 to 48 hours a week was associated with a 10 percent higher risk of stroke.
  2. A study of more than 2,000 British civil servants found that those working 11 hours or more a day were more likely to fall into a major depression within 5 years. \
  3. In other research using the same British population, the scientists gave participants tests of their memory and reasoning at the beginning of the study and five years later. People working 11 hours or more were more likely to show mental decline.
  4. Several studies confirm the obvious: that people who work long hours tend to get less sleep and often have sleep problems.
  5. People who stare at computers too long are at greater risk of developing dry eye, blurred vision, and headaches.

In Japan, if someone dies of overwork, or “karoshi,” his survivors may receive a government pension and damages from his employer. A case study by the International Labour Organization, an agency of the United Nations, lists some typical scenarios: “Mr A worked at a major snack food processing company for as long as 110 hours a week (not a month) and died from heart attack at the age of 34. His death was approved as work-related by the Labour Standards Office.

“Mr B, a bus driver, whose death was also approved as work-related, worked more than 3,000 hours a year. He did not have a day off in the 15 days before he had stroke at the age of 37.

“Mr C worked in a large printing company in Tokyo for 4,320 hours a year including night work and died from stroke at the age of 58. His widow received a workers’ compensation 14 years after her husband’s death.

“Ms D, a 22 year-old nurse, died from a heart attack after 34 hours’ continuous duty five times a month.”

In 2011, 120 deaths officially qualified as karoshi. Another 66 people were judged to have committed suicide because of job stress, a phenomenon called “karojisatsu.” 


October 07, 2015

Reviewed By:

Janet O’Dell, RN

Easy access to health records and personalized content.