Longer working hours affect employees’ health

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    The development of the UK’s long hours culture could be putting employees’ health at risk, says Aviva Risk Management Solutions (ARMS), the new name for Norwich Union Risk Services.

    James Draper, principal consultant for ARMS, said: “In 2007/08, a total of 13.5 million working days were lost to work-related stress, depression and anxiety.1

    According to The Trade Union Congress the credit crunch is putting extra pressure on people in both their personal and professional lives, with four million in the UK working over 48 hours a week and a worrying percentage of the population working more than 60 hours per week.2

    What’s disturbing is that more than half of employers (59%) do not associate long hours with productivity and 46% do not reward staff who work late or out of hours.3

    Longer working hours can cause severe problems such as musculoskeletal disorders, cardiovascular disorders, chronic infections, depression, stress and diabetes, as well as high blood pressure.

    Other problems associated with working longer hours include headaches, reduced immune system, extreme fatigue and insomnia.

    Nearly 60% of workers think that the current climate is making both them and their colleagues feel stressed and under pressure – with 45% saying that their company had no provision for dealing with stress.4

    From a GP’s perspective, nine out of 10 believe that stress-related illness will increase due to the recession and be the biggest occupational health issue of 2009.

    Alex Marshall, business development manager, Aviva’s UK occupational health, said: “Some of the reasons that employees are feeling extra pressure are linked to job insecurity, a strong commitment to their role or the need for employees to ‘take home’ pay to support their families.

    Around 37% of employees are failing to take lunch breaks 4 so as a first step, employers should be encouraging a good work/life balance and promote a culture that encourages staff to take their statutory break.

    Businesses need to be aware that longer working hours can affect workplace performance. For example, higher accidents or injuries could result, as well as firms experiencing an increase in claims of incapacity and long term sickness benefits.

    There should be a strong focus on stress management, which should be treated like any other workplace hazard. A risk assessment should be carried out, both at organisational level and within each team, ensuring ongoing assessment. Solutions such as an Employee Assistance Programme should be put in place to mitigate future risks.

    Organisations should oversee employees who are struggling to cope. Consider flexible working patterns and, if possible, increase resources and decrease workloads. Firms should be setting a good example in these tough times by not encouraging staff to waive Working Time Legislation and steer clear of pay scales being linked to increased hours and work loads.

    Training and development programmes should be implemented through human resources departments to improve time management and delegation. Top management behaviour and commitment should also be encouraged to change the business culture to raise awareness of the issue.

    1: 13.5 million (Health and Safety Executive Statistics for 2007/2008)

    2: Trade Union Congress (TUC): From Guardian Article Friday 6th June 2009: John Carvel: Social Affairs Editor. Title: “Long Hours Culture is Returning, warns TUC
    3: Article in Human Resources Magazine: David Woods 19th December 2008 “Entitled Long Hours not Linked to Productivity”

    4: Aviva’s UK Health ‘Health of the Workplace 3 report’, May 2009