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Why Overworking Is Bad for Workplace Health and Safety?

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Many people – both employers and employees – believe that working long hours is proof of their strong work ethic and a way of demonstrating value to their company. One study found that full-time employees in the UK work an average of 42 hours a week, almost two hours more than employees in the EU.

But does more hours on the job actually translate to higher productivity? It’s quite unlikely. In fact, overwork can have negative consequences on a person’s performance and health.

In recent years, researchers have discovered that working long hours is associated with a number of different health issues. Some of the physical diseases strongly correlated with overwork include an increased risk of stroke, heart disease and diabetes.

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A wide range of mental health disorders including depression, anxiety and substance abuse are also prevalent among over workers.   

It’s clear that people are eager to work longer hours to impress managers, get more work done, and add value to their organization. But due to the health and safety risks involved, overworking can have a detrimental effect not only on the individual, but also on the company as a whole.

The good news is that burnout and all of the health risks that go with it are entirely avoidable. By enrolling in health and safety courses, employees can educate themselves on the risks involved and take steps to prevent overworking.

With the right online health and safety training, employers and managers can also learn to spot signs of overwork and implement policies to ensure that workers stay safe and healthy and work reasonable hours.

While it might seem reasonable to think that working longer hours results in greater productivity, the opposite is actually true. Studies have shown that the sweet spot for productivity is between 35 – 49 hours per week. Once you start working more than 50 hours, there’s a steep drop off in the quality of the work.

But what about quantity? Even if the work is of lesser quality, surely more work is being done? Not quite. One study conducted by a professor at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, found that managers couldn’t tell the difference between employees who actually worked 80 hours a week and a sample group who just pretended to.

It wasn’t obvious that employees who worked longer hours accomplished more than the employees that worked fewer. This suggests that productivity is less about the number of hours worked, but rather dependent on the quality of those hours.

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Overwork Affects Both Employees and Organizations

The problem is that overwork isn’t simply wasted time, it’s also detrimental to the health of employees and the companies they work for. The list of ailments associated with overwork is long, detailed and very-well studied.

One study on British civil servants conducted in 1985 found that those who worked more than 55 hours a week found an association between overwork and cognitive decline. Other studies conducted by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health found that overwork and the resulting stress can lead to all sorts of health problems. These include:

  • Impaired sleep
  • Exhaustion
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Heavy drinking
  • Diabetes
  • Impaired memory
  • Heart disease

While these disorders are terrible in their own right, they’re also extremely bad for a company’s profits and productivity. Employees who suffer as a result of overwork are more likely to be absent from work and perform more poorly when they do show up. This can lead to higher employee turnover and greater health insurance costs.

Overwork Can Negatively Affect Productivity

Even if health and safety wasn’t an employer’s responsibility, the obvious financial consequences of overwork should raise many alarms, and motivate organizations to implement measures to prevent it.

This isn’t new knowledge. It’s something that has been known since the 19th century, when factory owners limited hours to 10 and then 8 hours. Once these measures were administered, owners discovered that output actually increased. Accidents decreased and expensive blunders were avoided, which led to an overall increase in productivity and profits.

Ways to Promote Healthy Work-Life Balance

In order to make sure that employees don’t overwork, it’s up to employees to implement policies and set standards that promote a health work-life balance. As we discussed above, this not only benefits the employees, but results in tangible, long-term gains for the company as well.

Providing your employees with the necessary training and knowledge about the dangers of overwork is the first step to preventing it. Human Focus provides a number of different online health and safety courses aimed at educating employees about how to maintain their mental and physical health at work.

In addition to undertaking this online health and safety training, managers and employers can also take a number of actionable steps to help promote a healthy work-life balance. These include:

Speaking to your workers about their needs and workloads

Have your workers fill out a survey about work-life metrics of your company – such as hours worked, flexible work hours, family support. This will help you identify the specific areas in which your company needs to improve to accommodate your workers.

Learning how to spot burnout

It’s likely that your employees won’t admit (or aren’t even aware) that they’re close to burnout. It’s up to you to recognize the early signs of burnout so you can intervene and prevent it. Try suggesting that your employee take a few days off or distribute their projects to co-workers.

Employing flexitime and work-from-home policies

Giving your employees agency over how many hours they want and the option to work from home will give them way more flexibility. This will incentivize them to live their lives outside of work and step away from their laptops from time to time.

Judging employees on performance and productivity, not hours worked

Many employees feel the need to work longer hours to demonstrate their worth to the company. Make it clear that assessment reviews take into account performance and quality rather than overtime and hours worked.

Encouraging vacations

Staff sometimes feel the need to not take holidays for fear of letting the team down. Speak to your team and let them know that it’s perfectly okay to take vacations, and encourage them to take time off regularly to recharge.

Restricting employee hours

Implement policies that restrict the number of hours that an employee can work without affecting their mental or physical health. According to the Working Time Regulations, most workers should not have to work more than an average of 48 hours a week.

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