- January 5, 2022
- by Kat Ciesielska
- 2 comments
Working long hours: serious health hazard or not? How to work long hours without risking your health and private-social life? How to get through a long day at work when you’re already tired?
If working long hours is the game you often play, read this article carefully. Learn how to deal with a busy schedule, maintain a work-life balance, and even protect workers’ health if you’re a manager.
Table of Contents
What does World Health Organization say about working long hours?
Here’s what WHO says about working long hours. I guess you won’t be surprised.
“Long working hours led to 745,000 deaths from stroke and ischemic heart disease in 2016, a 29% increase since 2000.” we can read about WHO’s and ILO’s (International Labour Organization) survey that has been published in September 2021 in Science Direct.
Stroke and ischemic heart disease are exactly these health risks that working long hours caused. And killed many people. High blood pressure and other diseases might cause it too, of course, but the survey shows a clear connection with working long hours.
That means that longer working time can cost you premature death.
The reason why exactly overworking is killing you is… stress. Not doing something for a long time in general.
Working long hours and stress
Luckily, World Health Organization is not the only party engaged in researches about how stressing out and longer working hours affect us. If you’re not geeky at all, this part of the article may not be for you, but if you are… go on! Here’s a part where I’ll make you a brief introduction to telomeres.
Long working hours cause stress.
Chronic psychological stress is a major contributor to human health and aging, and is associated with the development of many physical and psychological disorders including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, autoimmune disease, and depression
That’s what Dr. Elissa Epel and Jue Lin have written for the “Ageing Research Reviews” which is still in progress. If you have a feeling that you know this first lady, you might not be wrong. She is a co-author of the great book “The Telomere Effect”. Her partner in this crime is a Nobel Prize winner, Dr. Elisabeth Blackburn, who found out what telomeres are.
What’s important for you is that stress shortens telomeres. And telomeres are meant to protect your DNA. So, every single cell in your body. Telomeres are these little guardians that make sure your body remembers how to copy all the cells properly.
And when they get shortened… well, you can imagine. If not, I highly encourage you to read more about stress and telomere shortening. Health risks are almost countless.
And yes. Let’s say it again now: working long hours cause stress.
But doing it right, you can actually reduce it. Even while working longer hours than 40 hours a week. And that’s what I want to teach you today.
How to stay productive working long hours?
The right question should be: how to say productive and healthy, working long hours? We already know that long work hours can cause early death. So let’s not pretend that’s not true. Let’s not build companies where productivity strategies are more important than creating healthy habits at work.
Better focus on how we can change our long-hours-work-tactics to keep our psychological and psychical health on top. Because working over-time sometimes happens in every organization. Mandatory overtime is needed when something unexpected happens.
Let’s find inspiration together. We can stay focused during extended work hours without increased risk for heart disease. Long hours at work don’t need to hurt us.
Tip 1: Control your stress reaction.
Working more hours than you wished for is stressful, yes. Instead of your free time, you’re stacked with an extra job to do. You wish they could just ban mandatory overtime, you swear in your soul and make another coffee.
Focusing on your anger just increases stress levels. You can’t control everything, but you surely can control your reaction. And researches show that turning toxic stress driven by anger, fear, and anxiety into excitement changes it all.
Excitement doesn’t turn into permanent stress, it just drives you as long as you require it. And that’s good!
Next time when your work schedule changes, and you need to work long hours, think about it as about new, exciting task.
You’re going to show your abilities, maybe some raise is coming soon? You will also get all this extra money (because comp time is a lie), what can you buy for it? And don’t you actually like your work? It’s another chance to get better! This project will look spectacular in your résumé, won’t it? It’s also a great occasion to try yourself, check new ideas, and grow as a person!
If all these sound like a joke to you, maybe your reaction should be actually changing the job. Don’t lose your telomeres (health) in a place you hate.
If you like what you do, starting thinking this way shouldn’t be so hard as long as your boss is also a fair-play person 😉
Check: how to manage technostress
Tip 2: Stop doing many things at the same time.
Multitasking doesn’t work. There is no unlimited access to your brain’s RAM space (short memory), as millennials would like it to be. Focus can’t be separated. The maximum number of tasks you can really focus on is one. It always has been like this, and as long as evolution doesn’t change it… it will be like this.
It will be better for your health and life in general when you stop trying to maintain this ineffective way of working. Spend a fair share of your time on every task separately, and you will see the difference in productivity and fatigue levels.
Tip 3: Prepare a to-do list.
Workers’ oldest productivity friend. A to-do list may not prevent a heart attack just like that, but it helps to organize your work.
It can also help with fighting sleep problems if overthinking is your issue. Simply prepare a to-do list for the next day, so you don’t need to think about it in bed.
When you have a busy schedule or need to work longer hours, a good list will help you organize everything. Making it is never a waste of time.
Check: how to set goals and choose the right goal tracker
Tip 4: Prioritize important tasks.
Extended work hours doesn’t mean that you should do everything in one evening. Prioritize. Decide what’s the most important, urgent task that just can’t wait, and focus on it. Spend more hours to finish one significant thing instead of jumping between tasks.
Even most demanding work schedules include less urgent tasks to take care of. Learn yourself and teach your co-workers how to identify what needs to be done, and you may even get read of a few overtime hours per week.
Tip 5: Track hours worked and distractions.
Tracking time will expose you. This is good because you will see how much time do you waste daily. There is often no reason to work long hours. You just need to use normal working hours in a more efficient way.
Use time tracking software and analyze your week. Workers usually spend much more time on distractions than they think. Social media, e-mail boxes, irrelevant and useless applications… you won’t notice it without tracking.
Start using the time tracking app and save your working time. Finish your job earlier and enjoy life.
👉 Read our article on how many hours you should work a day.
Tip 6: Eliminate distractions.
Job-life of people who analyzed their week has significantly changed. Because they saw the distractions, they could eliminate them.
Join them. Spend time at work on the most important and urgent tasks. When you work longer hours, make its last shorter thanks to this.
Distractions make 1-hour job lats 3 hours.
Don’t do this to yourself during extra working hours.
Tip 7: Make breaks.
Extra working hours don’t mean that you can’t have a break. Your well-being is always important. Don’t wait to your maximum limits. Plan breaks as a part of your work.
Go away from your desk, stretch a bit, make yourself a cup of tea, do some simple yoga and breathe. Relax.
Your work compared to your over-stressed colleagues’ will be better, trust me. Your health also will gain from it.
Check: how to relax at work
Researches show that people with better relations are healthier. Partner and trustful friends are key to living long and happily. But also your colleagues from work can help.
Join some workers’ associations and never feel sorry for asking for help. Surrounding yourself with people from the same industry helps a lot. You will never feel alone. And, in case of some work-related troubles, you will have someone you can ask for advice.
Workers’ associations can be focused mostly on professional topics but not only. Many of them organize really chill meetings, just to get to know each other. Once a week or once a month. Choose what’s best for you.
Humans are social beings, and it’s time to understand it!
Tip 9: Stay hydrated.
Drinking water may seem not attached to your well-being, but it is. We are mostly water. Every cell in our bodies needs it. Also, blood needs water to transport everything that your organs need.
Drink your fluids.
Drink to fuel your muscles and your brain. Drink to get rid of brain fog and drink to be healthy. Drink, so you can focus better on your work.
Check: article from American Journal about lithium and water metabolism if you are a science-geek
Tip 10: Think about your physical health.
People who don’t work out already have a higher risk of many diseases, including heart attacks. Spending your free time in front of a TV can cost you early death as well. That’s why don’t forget to exercise for at least a few hours per week. Going to the gym can be tiring for you so instead get some dumbbells and a treadmill or spinning bike to create a small home gym, which will make it easier for you to find the time to exercise after work.
Eat well (clean 80% is enough), do some sports, and switch from TV to books or some board games with family and friends. You will feel the difference, also when you work longer hours.
Tip 11: Get enough sleep.
Getting enough sleep boosts your mental and physical health. It reduces stress levels, risk of cardiovascular diseases, works well for your telomeres, and guarantees you more power every day. Sleep Advisor is a great resource with a vast amount of sleep studies and data to help better your sleeping habits, improving your physical and mental health.
Sleep problems are not something you can ignore. Working longer hours won’t bother you so much when you take care of that.
Bonus tip: Antistress games are also helpful.
Sometimes all you need to relax is a 5 min break for a game on mobile phone. It is another way to avoid anxiety and stress-related issues. The virtual objects and activities incorporated in antistress game applications will distract your mind from all the worries and help you lift your energy up.
Long working hours & workaholism
It’s not exactly about how many hours a week do you work. Many industries already have tested 6-hours days in the work-week, for example. In this case, working longer could be actually working no more than 40 hours per week.
You can also not stay at the office for extended work hours at all, but still, suffer. It’s all about your reaction… again.
If you are a workaholic, you will always have difficulties. With your nerves, with your health, and with work-life balance. Even when you’re not at the office, even when you don’t need to stay for long hours at work.
Some bosses, managers, and standard employees wake up in the middle of the night. They can’t focus on their families. They feel nervous far from their phones and laptops. They think about work non-stop.
That’s workaholism. And it’s dangerous.
👉 Find out more about workaholism secrets!
Working overtime, however, doesn’t need to be. If you like your job or there is a need from time to time, do it. As long as you remember the tips I gave you, and you can switch off.
The moment you decide it’s finished, it’s finished.
You’re done. You go to take care of other things, you enjoy your life, and you sleep peacefully. This won’t hurt you.
Know the difference 😉
To be sure that you don’t check compulsively your e-mail when you’re using your devices, try free desktop and mobile time tracker applications.
Longer working hours won’t necessarily hurt you. WHO’s research shows that it can cause even early death, but there’s no reason to panic. What you need to do is focus on taking care of yourself in general and using the right tactics at work.
Try to keep your work-life balance on top, choose the job that you like, use the right tools, exercise, eat well and change your reactions. Learn to get motivated from unexpected events, grow as a person, and enjoy even working long hours. Stay healthy!