Are the risks of working long hours worth the outcome?
Engagement 4 minute read

Are the risks of working long hours worth the outcome?

Megan Orr | October 26, 2021

There are many risks associated with working long hours. Of course, employees may feel burnt out, disengaged, unhappy… or worse. Working long hours can have negative health consequences, so how can employers ensure their employees aren’t at risk?

Some people love working overtime—whether it’s banking hours to use for time off or collecting overtime pay, the option to work extra hours is something that employees like to take advantage of. Key phrasing here: The option to work extra hours. 

Working long hours should be an option for employees instead of something that’s expected. However, the risk of overworking has recently increased due to remote and hybrid work, with the boundary between work and home life now blurred and, in some cases, erased. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced in May 2021 that “working 55 hours or more per week is a serious health hazard”. Not only does working long hours contribute to employee burnout, but the risks of working long hours can include heart disease, stroke, and death. 

According to WHO, “working 55 or more hours per week is associated with an estimated 35% higher risk of a stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from ischemic heart disease, compared to working 35-40 hours a week”. 

Hustle culture is increasingly prominent, with people feeling more and more pressure to put in long hours. 

Forbes describes hustle culture as the “collective urge we currently seem to feel as a society to work harder, stronger, faster. To grind and exert ourselves at our maximum capacity, every day, and accomplish our goals and dreams at a lightning speed that matches the digital world we’ve built around ourselves”.

Good work ethic has been confused with working to the bone, with Canadian workers in particular feeling high levels of exhaustion and stress. A 2021 study found that 47% of Canadian workers surveyed felt exhausted during a typical workday, compared to 39% average globally. Additionally, Canadians’ “stress levels are also higher than the global average, with more than 50 per cent of Canadian workers reporting feeling stressed”.

With the risks of working long hours being so high, employers need to work proactively to ensure their employees aren’t overextending themselves.

Here are some ways you can encourage your employees to avoid working long hours:

  • It might be controversial, but having a limit on the number of hours employees are permitted to work in a week can reduce the risks of working long hours. However, as WHO points out, these restrictions are better if the government is the one to “introduce, implement and enforce laws, regulations and policies that ban mandatory overtime and ensure maximum limits on working time”. 
  • Offer employees the flexibility to have more control over their schedules. This can include allowing employees to use their overtime hours to leave early or start later another day. 
  • Encourage employees to take lots of breaks, book time off as they need, and reach out if they’re worried about their health (physical or mental). 
  • Leaders should set a clear example by not working long hours/on holidays/weekends, taking breaks, and prioritizing their own wellbeing. Encourage leaders to share with the team when they’re signing off for the day, taking a day off, or stepping out for a coffee or walk midday to show employees that they can—and should—too. 

One of the largest shifts in thinking and culture that employers can make to reduce the risks of working long hours is emphasizing the importance of quality of work, rather than quantity of hours spent working. Employees want to work for companies that put their wellbeing first—and that includes ensuring that employees are productive but not overworked.

Bring life to work, and your inbox.

Subscribe to our monthly email roundup of news and helpful resources on workplace trends, employee engagement tactics, and more.

Give your employees, and yourself, the experience we all deserve.

Book a demo