The Perils Of Overworking

Perils of overworking

Have you ever felt like you’ve worked too much in the week? For most people, this will simply be feeling tired from your normal working pattern, but there are those who overwork. Overworking can have plenty of negative effects for both a business and an employee.

According to statistics from the OECD, the average worker from the United Kingdom works 1,674 hours per year. While this may look like a lot, it is lower down the list than some other countries. Mexico takes the top spot with 2,246 hours worked a year, which is the equivalent of working around 43 hours per week.

In the second spot is South Korea, a country infamous for long working hours to increase their economy, with 2,113 hours. The highest European entry is Greece in third with 2,042 hours per year worked.

Why Is Overworking Bad?

The UK government mandates that most people cannot work more than 48 hours a week on average. Some exceptions to this include working the armed forces, emergency services or police, being a seafarer or fisherman, security and surveillance, domestic servant in a private household or working in a place where 24-hour staffing is required or your working time is not measured and you’re in control.

Overworking can lead to health issues with workers with a study published in the Psychosomatic Medicine journal discovering that workers who were suffering under high job strain, which was defined as high job demands with low job control, had a 45% increase in the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

Along with this, there is also the increased levels of stress that employees can suffer under when being over worked, which could manifest itself in a multitude of ways from physical ill health to panic or anxiety attacks.

In Japan overworking has become a serious problem, to the degree that they have a word especially for employees who work themselves to death: karoshi. According to the OECD, the country works an average of 1,713 hours per year, but suffers from employees recording severe amounts of overtime. This has in turn resulted in high numbers of workers committing suicide.

A high profile death in 2015 saw a 24-year-old employee of Dentsu, a Japanese advertising company, committing suicide after she worked over 100 hours of overtime the month before. In 2017 it was ruled by labour inspectors that the death of a 31-year-old journalist in 2013 had been caused by overwork. She had 159 hours of overtime reported and had only taken two days off in the month before her death of heart failure.

How Do Organisations Stop Overworking?

To try and combat this culture of overworking in Japan, which is a product of their post-war era that saw employees showcasing loyalty to a company in return for a job for life, the government has been trying to implement restrictions on working hours. While some companies try to circumvent these rules by having their employees lie about their overtime, others are trying to encourage employees to leave.

According to NBC News, employees at an IT service company based in Tokyo are forced to wear an ‘embarrassment’ cape if they are found to be working late on the third Wednesday of a month. The tactic worked with overtime being cut in half.

South Korea on the other hand, which as stated works the second highest hours in the world, is having a new initiative introduced for government workers. To force employees to leave work, computers will be powered down at 8pm on Friday nights.

The initiative began on 30 March in the Seoul Metropolitan Government and the second phase is scheduled to begin in April with employees having computers turned off at 7:30pm on the second and fourth Friday. In May, computers will shut off at 7pm every Friday. While this may not seem like much, it’s important to note that compared to the UK’s regulated 48 hours a week, it was only in early March that the South Korean weekly hours were cut from 68 to 52.

The United Kingdom has laws regulating the hours that an employee can work, but there are plenty of people who may end up working more than they should anyway. It is important for employees to be made aware of their legal rights around working hours to ensure that they are only working what is legally required of them.

For employers, they should consider how to achieve a perfect work to life balance that will not only improve the lives of their employees, but also help to improve their productivity levels as well. Organisations should note that longer working hours do not mean more productivity, with Germany recording the shortest working hours at only 1,363 hours per year yet reporting high levels of productivity, with German workers 27% more productive than British workers who work for longer.

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Sarah Jubb
Sarah Jubb

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