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Why Working Overtime Is Never A Good Idea Putting in that overtime might get you in your boss' good books, but your body won't thank you

By Vaibhav Joshi

You're reading Entrepreneur Asia Pacific, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.


In today's ultra-competitive job market, the good old nine-to-five job seems like an ancient relic. Today's recruiters make it clear that while it isn't stated in your contract, staying in the office past your scheduled working hours will be something that's expected of you. In fact, logging several hours of overtime every week has even become something to be admired and an example to be followed. However, while your work ethic is being praised by your bosses, it's taking a hefty toll on your body.

Physical Health

Long working hours mean long hours spent sitting in your office chair staring at your computer. These lengthy periods of sedentary behaviour are essential to get the job done, but researchers at Columbia University Medical Center have actually likened it to smoking. In their study published in Annals of Internal Medicine in September 2017, they used hip-mounted activity monitors to objectively measure inactivity during waking time over a period of seven days in 7,985 working adults over the age of 45.

Their findings were startling, as they found that employees who were sedentary for more than 13 hours a day were twice as likely to die prematurely as those who were inactive for 11.5 hours. "This study adds to the growing literature on how dangerous long periods of sitting are for our health and underscores a growing awareness among clinicians and researchers that sitting really is the new smoking," said study co-author Monika Safford, MD.

Another study carried out by researchers at University College London highlighted the increased risk of heart problems among those workers who put in regular overtime. Published in the European Heart Journal, their study involved the analysis of data from 85,494 workers from the UK, Denmark, Sweden and Finland. According to their findings, the participants who worked 55 hours or more per week were about 40 per cent more likely to develop atrial fibrillation in the following 10 years than those who kept 35-40 hour workweeks. "These findings show that long working hours are associated with an increased risk of atrial fibrillation, the most common cardiac arrhythmia," said lead researcher Professor Mika Kivimaki.

Mental Health

Working long hours can definitely take a toll on your physical health, but that's not where the negative effects end. According to research, long working hours are just as likely to affect your mental health. The findings of a study published in PLoS ONE in January 2012 suggest that people who regularly work more than 11-hour days more than double their chances of major depression as compared to employees who typically work about eight hours a day. "Long working hours are likely to be related to less time to relax and less sleep," said study researcher Marianna Virtanen, PhD from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in Helsinki. "It is also possible that excessive working hours result in problems with close relationships, which in turn, may trigger depression," she added.

One of the main features of regular overtime is not having a fixed work schedule. A study published in Neurobiology of Aging talks about how these irregular working hours can have an adverse effect on your cognitive abilities. The researchers noted that they found workers who complete varying shifts rather than a fixed workday needed more time to complete a test that is frequently used by doctors to screen of cognitive impairment. The symptoms include trouble remembering, learning new things, and making decisions that affect their everyday life. However, the researchers also said that shifting to a regular workday could help reverse the ill-effects of shift-work.

Christian Benedict, associate professor at Uppsala University, said, "Our results indicate that shift work is linked to poorer performance on a test that is frequently used to screen for cognitive impairment in humans. The poorer performance was only observed in current shift workers and those who worked shifts during the past five years. In contrast, no difference was observed between non-shift workers and those who had quit shift work more than five years ago. The latter could suggest that it may take at least five years for previous shift workers to recover brain functions that are relevant to the performance on this test."

Career Opportunities

Even if you disregard the health warnings mentioned above and continue to burn the midnight oil at work in an effort to further your career, you might want to peruse the following study. Analysing data from 51,895 employees from 36 European countries in a variety of industries, researchers found that more work effort actually predicted reduced well-being and career-related outcomes.

"We were somewhat surprised to find that work effort, whether overtime or work intensity, did not predict any positive outcomes for employees," said Argyro Avgoustaki and Hans Frankort, the study authors.

Vaibhav Joshi

Entrepreneur Staff

Features Writer, Entrepreneur Asia-Pacific

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