How is working long hours affecting our bodies?

We all like to boast about how long our working hours are. In some circles of friends it can almost feel like a competition. “My boss made me stay until 11pm, and I was in again at 6am,” is a common refrain heard among young busy people. Who ever sounded cool admitted they were out of the door at 5pm?

For entrepreneurs and business owners, long hours can feel like success - a business on which you spend less four hours a day surely can’t be a successful one, can it? Superlative time-management skills don’t cut it anymore - you have to be working longer and harder than anyone else in the office or you’re seen as a slacker.

It’s astonishing this culture dominates despite studies appearing almost constantly about the dangers of late working. People who have found themselves caught in the myth that stress and late nights lead to success should consider the danger working late nights can have to our well-being.

For starters, working more than 55 hours a week can increase the chance of a stroke by a third. The study, published in medical journal The Lancet, also revealed longer-workers are 13 per cent greater risk of developing coronary heart disease. The study also found that there’s no difference between men or women - both genders are equally at risk if they work long hours. 

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The other hard hitter is lack of sleep. The recommended amount of sleep for a functioning adult is eight hours a day, and yet the average Brit gets just six and a half hours a night, if they’re lucky. Live in a big city and it’s likely that light and noise pollution will give you a more disrupted night’s sleep, so that six hours you hold so dear to your heart is probably more like five. Let’s face it, we’re an exhausted nation. For many of us, having to cram our social lives into a few hours a night is exhausting - if we’re lucky enough to have time for one that is.

Nicki Cresswell, wellbeing coordinator at CABA, said: “Working long hours is a problem facing the British workforce, with recent research showing UK employees worked an average of 7.7 hours unpaid overtime per week in 2015. This is a common issue, with many employees feeling pressured into staying late or not to be the first to leave the office in order to impress senior management.”

As we tire out, we rely on more caffeine and more sugar at work. Relying on a chocolate bar moves it away from being a one-time treat, to being something that’s necessary - more sugar, more carbs, more fat. Our consumption of caffeine increases too, which can lead to adrenaline spikes. Again, drinking too much coffee can lead to heart and digestive issues, so try to avoid falling into the rut where it becomes essential to drink coffee to even perform basic tasks. 

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Ms Cresswell adds: “However, working long hours can be counterproductive, as employees can’t maintain focus for prolonged periods. It’s not the hours employees put in which will demonstrate their commitment and ability to do a good job; it’s about working smart. This is because it enables employees to re-energise by taking part in activities they enjoy, ultimately improving their wellbeing and performance.”

Martin Norbury, SME owner and author of I don’t work Fridays, advises businesses to cut down on the possibility of having to work hours by working out how to streamline work: “Ensure teams, systems, processes are all aligned. Develop a culture, which starts with the business owner, and permeates throughout every level of the organisation.”

Back to back meetings are one of the main culprits of working late. As meetings start to pile up, there comes a dawning realisation that to do any work at all it’s necessary to get to work a little earlier and stay a little later. Say no to meetings, or query whether they’re really essential before you blithely agree. A lot of meetings can be sorted with a quick email - chat to the main culprits cramming your day and see if you can do a few more phone conferences or quickfire email exchanges.

Another way to combat long hours is by implementing email blackouts.

Ms Cresswell says: “Employees can never disconnect when they’re always reaching for their devices to see if their employer has emailed. Employers need to set clear boundaries on email to support healthy practices.”

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If you think your working hours are too long and you’re worried about your health, try to compromise. Ask if you can work from home where you might be more efficient, or simply turn your computer off and challenge your boss if they ask. Afterall, no-one wants you to drop dead at 50. Simple as that.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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