death by overwork
“Once upon a time you could go home and work couldn’t interfere. Now you have your laptop, your phone, your tablet: you are connected. So you are always on whether you like it or not.
This is the first generation that has had to deal with the ramifications of that” said a director of AXA PPP Healthcare which supported the study. (Professor Cary Cooper spoke out about this in 2015 – as I posted here.)
As a result home has become more stressful than the office according to a recent survey. This has linked the problem of making yourself available 24/7 with cardiovascular disease.
It seems more than 50% of the 550 workers surveyed at a London-based French bank are more stressed at home than at work as they try to relax while still thinking about work.
This researchers used wrist monitors to measure changes in heart rate and the results led the researchers to believe that it’s the spikes that are dangerous. “Dealing with work while at home is pernicious to health and is directly linked to cardiovascular disease. That is now measurable and before it was not”.
Stress levels were found to be dangerously high until about 2030 when young children went to bed but some people’s levels remained high until after midnight. A smaller number of them, over 25, woke up between 0300 and 0400 and some of them even started working during that time.
The research was sponsored by an insurance company which now plans to monitor staff in high pressure jobs to see if their ability to perform has been damaged by an inability to switch off. This is likely in the next three years.
Why people still put ourselves through this when they know (or should know) the health risks is hard to fathom although there is some US research which found that some people found work less stressful than being at home.
So is it job insecurity? Addiction to work? Fear of missing out (FOMO) or being off-line (FOBO)? Whatever it’s surely time to rethink our work-life balance and stick two fingers up to the American idea of work-life merge.
It seems a life-time ago when stress management courses were de rigueur and people, including me, were making a living from them. (Now it’s either resilience training or mindfulness but that’s another story).
There was plenty of research about to back up what we were doing. The famous Whitehall studies which showed that the more senior you were the less likely you were to die early. In industry after industry it was the same story. Employees at the bottom of the hierarchy suffered more ill-health than more senior ones.
One of the factors contributing to this was the amount of control people had – over decision-making and the way they spent their working day. The more control or autonomy people felt they had, the less stressed they tended to be.
Now a recent study in the US has confirmed once again that people in stressful jobs with little control at work were more likely to die.
The research followed more than 2,000 Americans in their sixties over a seven-year period.
Those in low demand jobs reduced their death risk by 15% and those who were able to set their own goals and had flexibility at work were 34% less likely to die.
They also found that the people in the higher risk jobs were heavier. Comfort eating? Less time for exercise?
26% of those who dies were in front-line service jobs and 32% worked in manufacturing – both sectors with high demand and low autonomy.
55% of the deaths were from cancer (linked this week with high levels of anxiety and depression), and 22% from circulatory system diseases.
Erik Gonzales-Mulé at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University said employers didn’t need to reduce demand on their workers but should allow them more flexibility in how jobs were done. “You can avoid the negative health consequences if you allow them to set their own goals. set their own schedules, prioritise their decision-making and the like”.
I’m having deja vu here.This is like re-inventing the wheel. We knew all this decades ago. Remember autonomous working groups? Have American businesses forgotten about US contributions to organisational psychology and research on motivation? In America most workers still don’t get sick pay or maternity pay and have minimal holidays.
Japan has its own problems with employees working too hard (see recent post)
And we aren’t much better in some respects in the UK with the worst sick pay in the EU!
Recently experts and members of parliament have expressed concern about working conditions in call centres and on-line distribution centres. Sports Direct and Asos have been criticised for having Victorian working conditions. Some of these places are like “warehouses” on the edge of towns with no windows for natural light, just like giant container units.
Perhaps I should brush off my old notes and get back on the road again. Why do businesses never learn how to get the best out of people?
The japanese government are worried about people working too hard and killing themselves from overwork, called karoshi, from which 200 people died last year.
Its chief spokesman Yoshihide Suga said Japan must “end long working hours so people can balance their lives with things like raising a child or taking care of the elderly“.
Almost 1 in 4 Japanese employees work over 50 hours a week compared to 1 in 8 in Britain and the US and 1 in 12 in France. On average Japanese workers take only half their paid holiday entitlement as taking time off is considered an “inconvenience to their colleagues”
So they’ve introduced Premium Friday. On the last Friday of each month employees will be encouraged to leave the office at 1500 and make an early start to the weekend.
The purpose is two-fold: to enable people to recover from working the longest working hours in the world and to give the retail sector a much-needed boost by encouraging people to go shopping. It’s been estimated that if everyone takes advantage of this it could generate £900 million extra consumer spending every month.
The Japan Business Federation (Kaidenren) is urging its 1300 members to take part and the Trade Minister has promised not to make any appointments on Premium Friday afternoons.
However Mitsubishi Electric is currently under investigation for allegedly forcing its staff to work excessive hours and it’s not known how many people will break the habits of a lifetime in a period of economic uncertainty and job insecurity.
Also people might just go home to rest or shop on Friday instead of Saturday. After all if they are cutting down their hours they won’t have the money they earn with overtime to spend will they?
Getting work-life balance right is never easy when people have to work long hours to maintain their standard of living.
Japan has the longest lived people in the world and also the most rapidly ageing society with a quarter of the population over 65. This is not without its problems.
Because of the declining birth-rate this proportion will increase to 40% by 20160. However scientists have now declared that for healthy people old age should be classified as 75, not 65.
So will the government delay pensions and extend people’s working lives? They probably will otherwise there will be no-one working and paying tax to support the elderly in future years.