Life satisfaction for both men and women has risen for the 5th year in a row according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), which started the National Wellbeing study in 2011.
Women have been consistently happier the past but the ONS now finds higher anxiety levels among women. More than 1 in 5 said they were so worried about something that it was causing them distress.
Women are known to have larger social or friendship groups then men but rather the alleviating their worries that may actually be contributing to it by giving them more people to worry about (and let’s not mention the pernicious effects of Facebook and other social media).
The experts think that the stress of combining a job with childcare and domestic chores may be taking its toll. Add to that the fact that as the population ages more women end up looking after their elderly parents.
A psychiatrist who has seen women patients struggling to juggle their responsibilities says “Equality in the workplace has undoubtedly been a very good thing but it has left women facing the more negative aspects of corporate life like high levels of alcohol consumption, stress, fewer hours to run a home and raise a family, and potentially an unhealthy diet“.
Recently men have got healthier as women adopted their bad habits at work. So while life satisfaction rose last year – aligned with the economy, earnings, job prospects, and crime levels – there was no increase in happiness or a drop in anxiety levels.
The statisticians think that last year’s general election, the EU referendum and the immigration crisis could have unsettled the public. “It’s possible that the lack of improvement in three of the four personal weep-being measures this year could be associated with the uncertainty surrounding governance, the economy and global security“.
Nevertheless people living in Northern Ireland are the happiest in the UK for the fifth consecutive year and despite years of violence during the troubles there is greater social cohesion there withy people knowing their neighbours and feeling part of the community.
Economic researchers in Japan (where there is a culture of long hours and karoshi – death by overwork) analysed the employment habits and cognitive test results of 3,000 men and 3,500 women above the age of 40 in Australia, including retired and unemployed people.
They found that a part-time job is the best balance between keeping the brain stimulated and becoming completely exhausted through stress.
People who worked about 25 hours a week tended to get the best scores. Those who didn’t work at all scored about 20% lower on the series of tests (reading, numbers and patterns).
Working 40 hours a week was linked to a slightly smaller cognitive deficit but working 55 hours or more was worse than being retired or unemployed.
Working over 50-55 hours is known to cause heart problems in men in particular and an increase in error rates and accidents. The Whitehall study of 10,000 civil servants also found that people who worked working 55 hours a week did worse on cognitive tests than those who kept to 40 hours. Despite this body of knowledge the UK government still opted out of the European Working Time Directive.
Many countries have extended or scrapped the state retirement age and many people face the prospect of working into their 70s. Finnish experts have already warned that people may not be physically or mentally capable of sustaining the effort required to continue in their jobs.
Some companies , like BMW, have invested in modifying the workplace to cater for older employees but they are probably an exception.
Marianna Virtanen, a Finnish Occupational Health expert (they are hot on OH in Finland) who led the Whitehall studies in the mid-80s said that the new research seemed to show tat “Middle-aged and older people should limit their working hours to keep their cognitive capacity fit“.
She did wonder whether a long working week caused a drop in cognitive ability or whether a drop in cognitive ability led to people working longer hours to compensate. She conceded however that “In certain jobs where there is a lot of intense focus and concentration is needed, working long hours may be more exhausting to cognition“.
Apparently our body clocks aren’t aligned to a 9-to-5 working day and this poses a serious threat to our performance, mood, and mental health.
Dr Paul Kelley believes that there needs to be a huge change to move work times to fit with the circadian rhythms of employees to avoid storing up health problems.
And furthermore staff don’t get back to a 0900 start until they reach 55. So “staff are usually sleep-deprived… and this is hugely damaging top the body’s emotional and performance systems”.
He doesn’t believe we can change our 24-hour rhythms and learn to get up at a certain time because our bodies are attuned to sunlight and its effect on the hypothalamus.
This is separate from the ill-effect of working long hours.
Extreme workers beware!
More recently there was inter-departmental infighting between the Department of Health and the DTI about opting out of the EU Working Time regulations (which set a maximum of 48 hours). Health had commissioned research which clearly showed that working over 50 hours a week, especially for men, led to and increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
The latest news from University College, London, based on a study of over 500,000 workers from the US, Europe, and Australia, is that working more than 55 hours a week increases the risk of a heart attack by 13%.
Compared to people working a standard 40 hour week stroke risk increased by 10% if you worked up to 48 hours a week and by 27% if you worked up to 54 hours a week.
Working 55 hours or longer increased the stroke risk by a massive 33%.
Working long hours means you have less time to exercise or look after yourself, you probably eat fast food for the convenience and may drink more to help you relax.
Of course there are some extreme workers who appear to thrive on working long hours but how long can they keep it up?
UK workers were the 4th unhappiest in Europe just behind Germans, Bulgarians and Greeks.
This might explain our low productivity rates with long hours and high sickness absence rates.
Managers are seen as poor having been promoted because they were good at their previous job rather than for their potential.
On the other hand almost 60% of us said we were happy with our love lives and personal relationships with fewer than 10% very dissatisfied. That put us into 3rd place behind the Irish and the Austrians.
Overall our life satisfaction scores were about average with the Nordic countries, as usual, occupying the top spots.
It’s not just women who are putting their health at risk (see “Stress can be a killer for women ..“).
Unfit men who work long hours are doubling their risk of dying from heart disease. And it doesn’t matter whether or not the work is physically demanding. Work itself increases your heart rate and blood pressure.
According to Denmark’s National Research Centre for the Working Environment if you work longer than 45 hours and don’t take exercise you run twice the risk of dying than fit men who also work long hours but exercise.
Their study, published in the journal Heart, looked at 5,000 men aged 40 to 59 and tracked their working hours and fitness levels over 30 years. One in five of the men worked longer than 45 hours a week and if they were unfit these were the ones who were at most risk. Even working between 40 and 45 hours increased the risk by almost 60% compared with men who worked less than 40 hours.
Physically fit men were least at risk no matter how many hours they worked – not just of dying from heart disease but from other causes as well. High levels of fitness counter the negative effects on the body and speed up recovery time allowing you to sleep better and leaving you less tired and irritable.
The Daily Mail reported that full-timer workers in the UK work 1.5 hours a week longer than the EU average of 39.9 hours. Of course our government opted out of the Working Time Directive despite earlier warnings of the ill effects of working over 50 hours (See “Taking work to extremes“).
Apparently only workers in Romania and Bulgaria work longer hours and the UK has one of the highest heart attack rates in the world – someone having a heart attack every two minutes.
Despite the fuss about women only achieving parity with men in 50 years based on a survey from the Chartered Management Institute.
According to the survey women’s salaries increased by 2.8% last year compared to 2.3% for men. So it was claimed that if women’s pay continued to improve at that rate women would have parity with men by 2067 – almost 100 years after the Equal Pay Act.
The average salary for male managers was £41,337, about £10,000 more than women managers earned (but these surveys don’t seem to take into account the sectors where women work which may pay less than the sectors dominated by male managers).
This was also reflected at the bottom of the career hierarchy with junior male executives earning £22,253, just over £1,000 more than their female counterparts. There were bigger gaps in IT and pharmaceuticals at this level, over £3,500.
In the boardroom however it’s a different story. Female directors out-earn men with an average salary of £144,729 compared with £138, 765 for men.
Camilla Cavendish’s article in the Times (20 August 2010) is the most sensible I’ve read on this subject for ages. She rightly pointed out that women only earned less in broadly defined categories like “function head” and this could be because men are better qualified than women (as the female graduates have yet to work their way through the ranks) and more experienced (as experienced women have taken more time out).
But her main point is that it’s not about pay but about the hours.
She says women have made huge strides in terms of flexible working and work-life balance but aren’t necessarily prepared for “extreme working“. Extreme jobs are those where you are permanently plugged into your job; “10 hours a day at work, plus breakfast or dinners, plus being available to clients and bosses at weekends and holidays”. There is no switch off and these jobs are characterised by unpredictability.
Once confined to bankers, CEOs and politicians, these jobs are spreading across all sectors. She cites an American study from 2006 which found that 21% of high echelon workers had extreme jobs rising to 45% in multi-national companies. Half were clocking in over 70 hours a week, a quarter more than 80 hours, and 10% over 100 hours! And 4 out of 5 of these workers were men.
Working across time-zones means that there is always someone who needs you if you work in IT, HR, Law, or other advisory service. Having worked with virtual teams I know how disruptive video-conferencing across time zones can be to productive team working. And that’s before we mention smart phones and the internet.
Some people get a buzz from being “always on” and asking them to switch off their phones in meetings or seminars often produces a negative response. As we know from the recent BA dispute text messaging in the middle of negotiations is hardly showing respect to your colleagues across the table.
Cavendish also quotes a study from McKinsey from 1995 which demonstrated that once people worked over 65-70 hours a week there was a significant risk to health and marital status. Similarly research commissioned by the Department of Health showed that men working over 50 hours a week were at a greater risk of coronary heart disease (CHD).
That report was buried by the then government as another department was fighting the EU about the Working Time Directive arguing that the opt-out should be extended. But none of this is new. Industrial psychologists studied workers in munitions factories in WWI and found that working long hours led to more accidents and (sometimes fatal) mistakes.
And last year a survey by the Hidden Brain Drain found that nearly half of all extreme workers were too knackered to even speak to their wives or partners in the evenings. I was once asked to coach a Big 5 partner who wanted a career change because his wife was threatening to divorce him. He asked me to meet him at the airport as he was about to fly off again to Singapore. And although it is typically men who are working extreme hours I have also met female lawyers who work long hours – even pulling “all-nighters” to demonstrate to senior partners how committed they are.
So whilst some women do the time they are also more conscious of the impact on their personal lives, or lack of, whereas men seem more reliant on their job status to feel valued. For the majority of us long hours and stress eventually leads to ill-health as I have posted about previously: stress affecting senior women.