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Article: How Many Hours Is It Healthy To Work? We Are Doing It All WRONG!

How Many Hours Is It Healthy To Work? We Are Doing It All WRONG!

How Many Hours Is It Healthy To Work? We Are Doing It All WRONG!


We get up, eat and go to work. Return home, rest, then repeat. This happens five days a week most of the year. What does this do to our health? How many hours is it healthy to work? Well we are doing this all wrong!

Think about how many hours you actually work...I want you to stop and reflect on this. I am not just including your time sitting at the desk, I am talking about the (pre-covid) commute in and out of work. Recent scientific studies in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health have looked at research over 20 years and have found long working hours were shown to adversely affect the occupational health of workers - in all domains:

increased risks of high blood pressure, heart attacks/strokes (cardiovascular risk factors)
chronic fatigue
depressive and anxiety states
sleep quality
alcohol use and smoking
poor physical health
physical inactivity
poor health choices

My slogan, ‘if you think wellness is expensive, you should try illness’. Health, I would argue, is the most important factor to ensure quality of life. If you don’t have your health, what do you have?

Many of my patients work long hours - at least 50 hours a week and that’s normal, especially with multinational companies, who expect a lot from their employees. Oh don’t worry, they throw in an hour mindfulness/wellness hour in the week, probably on Wednesdays so that should mitigate the health risks? HELL NO!

People are aware of the famous Swedish trial of adopting six hour days for nurses in 2017. They found productivity, health and wellbeing improved with less sick days too. Singapore also looked at asking workers to finish at 3:30pm in the afternoon.

What is the optimum number of hours? That depends on a multitude of factors - including whether you enjoy it, the intensity of the work, colleagues etc. Generally speaking, I believe there are ulterior motives to some studies particularly for large organisations. They are scared that if they reduce hours then workers will essentially be paid more for less work i.e. less productivity. That isn’t necessarily true.

A recent post by a company on FastCompany has been using five hour days in their organisation since 2015 and found on the whole it works but things needed to be fine tuned. Looking at the data, especially from the Swedish trials, I feel that six hours a day with flexible working is ideal. What are your thoughts on the optimum number of hours to work?

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