Time to Take a Break? How Always Working Could Be Hurting You

18 April 2017 -


From NHS A&E wards to the trading floors of the City, a culture of burning the midnight oil can be damaging to the health of managers, their teams and employers

Jermaine Haughton

While some managers and business leaders may boast of working long hours to achieve successful results, and being consumed with their work, a study by digital health provider BioBeats and the University of Surrey shows how overworking and taking your work home can be very unhealthy, even deadly.

The stress of constantly working - responding to their emails and messages at all hours, and regularly working far longer than their contracted hours - is linked to cardiovascular disease, according to the first piece of research to prove the link between rumination (the process of thinking about work outside of work) and poor heart health.

The sad story of Matsuri Takahashi, 24, who jumped to her death in December 2015 due to overworking, asked her mother in a note: "Why do things have to be so hard?" reflects some of the mental health issues constantly working can cause.

In September last year, the Japanese government ruled that Ms Takahashi's death had been caused by overwork at Japanese advertising group Dentsu, completing up to 100 hours of overtime a month.

In this small-scale study, researchers monitored participants from financial services company BNP Paribas and insurance firm AXA with biometric measurement Microsoft Bands and measured heart rates in workers, finding that 'spikes' in stress occurred when people interrupted their home time with work.

Using a heart rate monitor and an accelerometer (a device that tracks physical activity) to look at heart rate variability during three consecutive weekday evenings, the study found that the heart rate patterns suggested that the high ruminators were less relaxed than the low ruminators in the evening.

Interestingly, the study’s authors also discussed how constant thoughts about work, and not just the work itself, piled on the pressure onto worried workers, making unwinding post-work significantly harder, and aiding in causing poor health. Furthermore, BioBeats discovered that most users showed signs of not recognising symptoms of stress, reporting to feel less stressed when their physiological stress was increasing.

Dr David Plans, CEO of BioBeats and co-author of the study, said taking work home is far worse than originally believed and is making people ill.

Dr Plans explained: “This study is important for two critical reasons. Firstly, it highlights a fact that we all knew, but have continued to ignore, that always working is very bad for our health. And secondly, we are now able to measure, with nearly 100% accuracy when stress levels are increasing and pinpoint exactly the long-term damage it is causing.

“This is a cultural problem that must be addressed sooner rather than later and we’re pleased to work with insurers as well as other corporates to help them define the problem within their organisations and tackle it together."

The BioBeats’ stress findings further highlight the importance of stress management and a balanced work and personal life for employees and their employers. Overworking employees increases the likeness of increased sick leave, presenteeism and, eventually, detrimental effects on workplace mood, performance and productivity.

If your employee burns out and has to be replaced, it costs money (some say 20% of that person’s annual salary) and it makes them unlikely to recommend your place of employment to others.

CMI’s own Quality of Working Life study found that of the 1,574 managers surveyed, over three quarters (77%) work for at least an additional hour each day, adding up to an extra 29 days over the course of a year. With average holiday entitlement only 28 days, this extra time cancels out managers’ annual leave.

The report shows that by eating into the time available to relax, exercise and socialise, long-hours prevent managers being able to unwind. Managers surveyed for the study report a link between working longer hours and suffering from increased headaches, irritability and insomnia, all early symptoms of mental health problems and potential burnout.

Some 61% of managers blame technology for their increased hours as they find it harder to switch off, with one in five managers reporting that they are ‘always on’ and check emails all the time. Those struggling to switch off report lower personal productivity levels and experience more stress.

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