Why working too hard is a serious health risk for women

by Nicky Pellegrino / 09 August, 2018
RelatedArticlesModule - Working too hard women health risk

Photo/Getty Images

Workaholic tendencies are a serious health risk, but research suggests that men tend to fare better than women. 

Remember the days when we finished work, went home and forgot all about it until the next morning? In the modern era, the office is always in our pockets and checking emails or taking calls after hours is the norm. It’s little wonder that New Zealanders report feeling stressed and anxious as they struggle with large workloads and long hours. The “Wellness in the Workplace Survey”, run by Southern Cross and Business NZ last year, showed 31.2% of workers felt stress levels had risen in the previous two years.

There is plenty of science to suggest that working too hard is bad for your health. The latest comes from Canadian researchers who tracked 7000 workers for 12 years and concluded that women who put in longer hours have a greater chance of developing type 2 diabetes.

“We observed a 63% increased risk of developing diabetes among women working 45 hours or more a week, compared with women working between 35 and 40 hours a week,” says lead researcher Mahée Gilbert-Ouimet of the University of Toronto.

Interestingly, no such heightened risk was found among men with longer working weeks. Although the study can’t offer a definitive reason for this, researchers do have some theories.

“It’s plausible that women work longer hours when all the household chores and family responsibilities are taken into account,” says Gilbert-Ouimet. “For their part, men performing long work hours tend to hold more physically active jobs than women, get an important sense of identity as a result of work, and are more likely to hold highly skilled and well-paid occupations.”

Previous research confirms that men with tough work schedules fare better than women. A study from Ohio State University found that putting in long hours over many years triples the risk of heart trouble, diabetes, cancer and arthritis in women – that was at 60 hours a week, but even working more than 40 saw the risk begin to climb.

Researcher Mahée Gilbert-Ouimet.

In New Zealand, there are no standard working hours. Traditionally, the maximum has been 40 hours a week, but that doesn’t include overtime and employers and employees are free to agree otherwise. It is common in this country to do a 40 to 49-hour working week, although, because of technology, work is increasingly overlapping our personal lives.

Excessive work hours have been shown to increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, digestive problems, chronic infection, depression, anxiety and sleep disorders. In extreme cases, they can kill. Japan has some of the longest working hours in the world, and the number of people suffering serious health effects continues to rise – there is even a Japanese word, karōshi, that means “death from overwork”. Cases include 31-year-old journalist Miwa Sado who logged 159 hours of overtime in the month leading up to her death, from heart failure, in 2013. In addition, a high number of suicides in Japan are attributed to overwork.

Your attitude to work and how much you enjoy it make a difference. The classic workaholic feels guilty without their nose to the grindstone. They put themselves under pressure with self-imposed deadlines, obsess about work and find it hard to switch off. According to a 2010 study by a Dutch financial consulting firm, workaholics – whether or not they actually clocked up long hours – reported more health complaints, depressive feelings and sleep problems than employees with long work hours (a maximum of 65 hours a week) but no workaholic tendencies.

Workaholics engaged in meaningful jobs were at a slightly lower risk of developing metabolic syndrome (a cluster of conditions, including increased blood-sugar levels, high blood pressure, excess abdominal fat and abnormal cholesterol and triglycerides) than non-engaged workaholics motivated by money or status.

Given that diabetes, heart disease and stroke are leading causes of death, and their rates are predicted to increase dramatically in the future, researchers suggest that sticking to a 40-hour working week may play an important role in prevention.

This article was first published in the August 4, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

Latest

Hop to it: The best Kiwi beers for summer
99461 2018-12-14 00:00:00Z Dining

Hop to it: The best Kiwi beers for summer

by Michael Donaldson

Here's what to crack open on a hot day, from our very own Kiwi brewers.

Read more
Te Atatu's new cafe The Sugar Grill celebrates local history and family
100443 2018-12-13 16:46:27Z Auckland Eats

Te Atatu's new cafe The Sugar Grill celebrates loc…

by Jean Teng

Nickson Clark's new cafe The Sugar Grill is a project 19 years in the making.

Read more
Time Magazine’s Person of the Year recognises the global assault on journalism
100431 2018-12-13 11:36:23Z World

Time Magazine’s Person of the Year recognises the …

by Peter Greste

Time Magazine has just announced its “Person of the Year” for 2018, and for once, it isn’t one person.

Read more
The devastating effect of discarded Christmas plastic
100417 2018-12-13 09:31:47Z Planet

The devastating effect of discarded Christmas plas…

by The Listener

Over the European holiday season, the Mediterranean Sea’s plastic load rockets by a whopping 40%, as people buy then simply ditch plastics like lilos.

Read more
The worst humanitarian crisis in the world that no one knows about
100384 2018-12-13 00:00:00Z World

The worst humanitarian crisis in the world that no…

by Todd Pitock

A country rarely in the media spotlight, here's why we can't ignore Chad.

Read more
Trump's stolen slogan and the campaign advisor who did his bidding
100401 2018-12-13 00:00:00Z World

Trump's stolen slogan and the campaign advisor who…

by Emma Land

If you thought Donald Trump came up with the slogan "Make America Great Again," you’d be mistaken.

Read more
Big Little Lies author Liane Moriarty on how life became stranger than fiction
100261 2018-12-13 00:00:00Z Profiles

Big Little Lies author Liane Moriarty on how life …

by Diana Wichtel

When Liane Moriarty was summoned to meet Nicole Kidman in a Sydney cafe, the Hollywood star made it clear she was serious about optioning the book.

Read more
Dear Oliver: A son's poignant tribute to his mother
93895 2018-12-13 00:00:00Z Books

Dear Oliver: A son's poignant tribute to his mothe…

by Peter Wells

A reminder that nothing can really prepare us for the death of a beloved parent.

Read more