WHO says working long hours is fatal
Health & Wellness

Go get some rest; WHO says working long hours is fatal

May 19, 2021, 8:30 AM
JM Taylo

JM Taylo


Bad news for all who had to put in extra working hours due to the Covid-19 pandemic: the World Health Organization says overwork is also becoming a global health concern due to its serious long-term health effects.

AS the old saying goes, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy…”

Having a job during the pandemic is a blessing for many when layoffs are happening left and right.

But while employees are rewarded for their hard work and dedication to the company, there is one price they all must pay: health consequences resulting from hours of overworking.

A recent study by the World Health Organization (WHO) reveals working longer hours kills hundreds of thousands globally each year as overworking gives people health-related risks later in their lives.

According to the WHO, around 745,000 people died in 2016 alone from stroke and heart disease due to stress for working extended hours or more than 55 hours a week, which gives 35 percent higher risk of stroke and a 17 percent higher risk of dying from heart disease, compared to people working 35 to 40 hours per week.

“The population prevalence of exposure to long working hours increased substantially between 2010 and 2016. If this trend continues, it is likely that the population exposed to this occupational risk factor will expand further,” the study said.

The report also shows that the top affected areas are the people living in South-East Asia and the Western Pacific region of the world where the top death toll are relative highest in former.

Additionally, the study also reveals that middle-aged or older men account to three quarters of those who died in terms of demographics.

“The disease burdens were disproportionately higher in the South-East Asian and Western Pacific regions, men, and people of middle to older working age. Between the years 2000 and 2016, the exposed population increased by 9.3%, and the attributable burdens of deaths from ischemic heart disease and stroke increased by 41.5% and 19.0%, respectively.”

Health implications

The study identifies two ways in which long working hours affects the human health. First is through the body’s biological responses to stress hormones when employees encounter pressures and other work-related stresses.

The second indicator is behavioral changes to the person such as substance abuse, excessive tobacco and alcohol consumption, unhealthy diet, and staying up late brought about by stress from work.

Work during the pandemic

Although the study did not encompass the current health crisis and period, the WHO nevertheless pointed out that such trends may worsen due to the coronavirus pandemic, underscoring the economic downtrend of countries and the rise of teleworking.

"We have some evidence that shows that when countries go into national lockdown, the number of hours worked increase by about 10 percent," WHO technical officer Frank Pega said.

In the same study, the researcher said previous “experience has shown that working hours increased after previous economic recessions” which can similarly be attributed to what is currently happening during the Covid-19 pandemic.

But even before the pandemic forced many into the new normal of things, the same United Nations agency noted that the number of people working for longer hours was already increasing, translating to 9 percent of the world population.

Given the findings, Pega suggested that employers should prioritize and hold in high regard the resolution of occupational health risks of their workers such as limiting work hours.

"It's really a smart choice to not increase long working hours in an economic crisis," he remarked.

Are Filipinos working overtime?

The same study also shows the Philippines as one of the countries in the Southeast Asian and Western Pacific region to have a population exposed to long working hours or around 15 percent to 20 percent, despite having a fixed 40-workhour per week.

“Even though we have a choice not to work beyond our office hours, we are still compelled to take extra hours in order to prevent affecting our office's performance in the coming weeks,” said Dianne, who works in the government.

She cited that if she left other workload on her plate unfinished, she would merely end up finishing it the following day, which would later add to her responsibilities for that specific day.

In another interview, a public schoolteacher said despite have a fixed working hour and work from home arrangement, she still needs to work more hours to finish all the “paperwork” she has.

“I wish that they will end the school year earlier; it is still in a trial and error. So, I [could] rest and have our vacation the soonest.” said Sheryll Ceasico, when asked what she hopes her employers would do given the study.

Workers are the backbone of every country’s economy and, frankly, its very existence.

Both the private and public sectors must address this looming problem with the same regard they are pouring against Covid-19, after all, it’s an issue of human health too. (JT)

Tags: #overwork, #health, #WorldHealthOrganization, #teleworking, #Covid19

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