Posted in Blog | Culture

Understanding the Effects of Overtime on Employee Health 

In a previous blog we discussed how working more isn’t always better and the impact that overtime hours have on employee health and productivity. You may have employees who are new to your company or who may have difficulty with work-life balance, and it’s important to help them understand the long-term importance of rest. Here are a few important things to know about the negative effects of working long hours on employees’ physical and mental well-being.

Back to the Basics

Excessive overtime and overworking can affect our most basic behaviors. This includes how much we sleep, quality of sleep, how much we eat and when, exercise habits, and social-relational health. What we do physically has a direct impact on our mental health, too. These basic human needs for sleep, food and exercise can have large, long-term health impacts if ignored. 

Without sleep, we may have difficulty managing stress and solving problems. Lack of sleep may also lead to longer recovery from illness and injury. Overworking and high levels of stress can also lead to increased substance abuse and poor coping mechanisms when we feel overwhelmed or feel the need to disconnect.

If we’re too busy to eat lunch — or eat at all — during the work day, our blood pressure drops. This increases the likelihood we’ll eat larger, more readily-available unhealthy foods later. In that same vein, regular exercise helps prevent depression, lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol, and control blood sugar. It can even reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Additionally, working overtime often comes at the price of neglecting relationships. Proper attention to relationships helps us in many ways. It mitigates loneliness, sharpens our memory and cognitive skills, and increases our sense of happiness and well-being.

Stress’s Impact on the Body

While people often think of stress as a mental or emotional state, stress physiologically impacts the body. According to the Cleveland Clinic, stress caused from long working hours raises cortisol levels, the body’s primary stress hormone. Over time, increased stress levels can lead to brain fog, high blood pressure, cardiovascular issues and diabetes.

In the Cleveland Clinic article, Psychologist Adam Borland, PsyD described it as “like a car trying to run with a very limited amount of gas in the tank. We’re expecting ourselves to perform physically and cognitively on such a high level but in reality, our reserves are tapped out.”

In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) published findings last year that showed working overtime (55+ hours per week) is associated with an increased risk of stroke or death from ischemic heart disease.

Multiple studies have also found several serious risks from working long hours. Overtime can cause a higher risk of depressive disorders, suicidal ideation, anxiety and hypertension. Some studies even show that poor mental health causes between ⅓-½  of all long-term sickness and disability in the working age population within Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member countries, including the US.

What Can We Do?

As employers, the best thing we can do is to encourage healthy boundaries. We can do this through our words, policies and our own actions.

Boundaries can be small, like helping employees set a reasonable workload each day. We can encourage them to put down their work at the end of their work day, regardless of whether the task is finished. We can also encourage regular activities to look forward to after work. This could include an exercise class, time with friends and family, or cooking a nice meal.

Boundaries can also be big, but they’ll have a large impact. Encourage leaders to model taking full advantage of team benefits! Encourage using PTO, participating in retirement funds, or even seeking preventive care covered by health insurance. If your team members see company leaders using these things, they’ll feel more inclined to take advantage themselves.

The more we can encourage our employees to take care of themselves and seek balance, the more productive, positive and healthy our workplaces can be.

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