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Are you prioritising healthy working hours?

The British Heart Foundation has classified long working hours to be anything over 55 hours per week, and 35-40 hours per week as standard working hours.

Research had shown that, out of the 85,495 participants they studied, 5.2 per cent of them worked long working hours, whilst 62.5 per cent worked standard hours.

It is becoming increasingly common for employees to work over their contracted 37.5 ‘full time’ hours a week. Physiologist Gabriella explores the impact.

What are the recommended working hours?

According to the working time directive, employees should be required to ‘opt in’ to work more the 48 hours a week, depending on the industry. However, this doesn’t mean that you should strive to achieve the maximum! The number of people in Britain working above these hours has risen by 15 per cent since 2010, and this is affecting their health and putting additional strain on the health services and benefits systems. The Trade Union Centre has also reported that full time employees in Britain worked an average of 42 hours a week in 2018, which is nearly two hours more than the EU average and equivalent to an extra two and a half weeks a year. While these are accepted as the average working hours, research has suggested that humans are capable of productively working in an office environment for a maximum of 4 hours per day, meaning that the other hours are just filled in some capacity. The current culture of working does not suit everyone, so how can you prioritise your work-life balance and work smarter, not harder?

How can working excessive hours affect my health?

  • Increase in excessive alcohol consumption - Research has shown that working over 40 hours a week increases the risk of that person seeking alcohol as a relaxation treatment. Ideally you should consume no more than 14 units of alcohol a week (again, this is not a target!). Excessive drinking (more than 6 units in one session and regularly consuming more than 14 units per week) can increase the risk of developing high blood pressure and, in later life, cardiovascular disease.
  • Increased levels of work stress - It may not always be noticeable but, while you’re working, your heart rate increases due to the fact that you are in a work environment. However, when work levels start to increase and stress levels rise, your body releases a hormone called cortisol which, over a long period of time, can have a damaging effect on your heart health and can increase the risk of strokes, heart attacks and cardiovascular disease. Working more than 11 hours a day increases your risk of heart disease by 67 per cent, compared with those working a standard 7-8 hours a day, according to a new UCL study.
  • Increased risk of obesity - Research comparing balanced and unbalanced work schedules showed that having an unbalanced work scheduled increased the risk of developing obesity, due to there not being enough hours left in the day to perform some form of physical activity. The study also showed that participants were more likely to smoke and drink excessive amounts of alcohol.

Top tips - managing your working hours

  • Flexible working hours – The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found that allowing flexible working can increase morale and productivity. A simple conversation around your working hours can have a massive impact on your physical and mental health at work. This will allow you extra time in the morning to fit in the exercise you have always wanted to do, or allow you extra sleep if you have a longer commute.
  • Set a time limit for each task – Setting a time limit for each task allows you to concentrate on one specific thing instead of flicking from different tasks throughout the day. Try tracking how long it takes you to complete regular tasks, to see where you can save time in future.
  • Make a to do list – making a to do list will help to prioritise the tasks that you need to complete that day and will allow you to stay focused on these tasks. Try starting with the task you are least looking forward to or one that will take up the most time!
  • Delegate – Delegation and outsourcing can get a bit tricky. For some, it’s hard to let someone else do work that they used to do. For others, they don’t have the time to train someone else to complete certain tasks. Utilising skills within your team can help to save time on tasks you don’t need to do yourself, and a fresh set of eyes can also work in your favour.
  • Use an online calendar – Calendars have long been a fundamental tool for time management. Make sure that you plan time for yourself; it is easy to schedule time for a meeting or business need, but think about scheduling your lunch breaks and the time you will leave work and, more importantly, stick to them!

Experiment with ways to prioritise your work-life balance. What works for someone else might not work for you, but there are always more options.