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It can be difficult to find a balance in life between work, family, friends, commitments and free time. It can often feel like a juggling act. But what happens when work takes over?
At present, in the midst of a financial crisis, many people are working harder, and for longer, in order to make ends meet. Job security has become more important than ever. However, there is a down-side. It is well-known that working too much can affect other parts of your life. It can put a strain on family relationships. It can also result in mental and physical fatigue. More and more people are taking time off work due to stress.
However, the results of a recent study could add even more stress and worry to their already busy lives. The study suggests that the effects of overwork are similar to the effects of smoking and can even increase the risk of dementia later in life.
As they are known to be a nation of workaholics, employees in the UK might worry the most about these findings. Statistics show that they work some of the longest hours of any European Union country, yet they do not have the same quality of life as many of their European neighbours. They also get fewer bank holidays.
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) claims that long hours affect workers’ health. Those who regularly work over 48 hours per week are at increased risk of stress, which can result in health problems. The TUC also found that long hours are not necessary for economic success because people who work long hours become tired and so they are less productive. The TUC suggest that the solution is not more hours of work, but better organisation and more training.
Sadly, many workers do not even get extra pay for their extra hours. Instead, for some workers, the reason for working overtime is fear of losing their job. A ‘Quality of Working Life’ report, which questioned over 1,500 managers, found that only 1 in 3 work extra hours by choice. The average manager works almost an hour and a half over contract each day – equivalent to around 40 days per year.
In many businesses, going the extra mile is now taken for granted; it is almost expected that employees work longer hours. However, on the other hand, it is agreed upon by businesses and employees that work-life balance leads to a healthier and happier workforce. In recent years, the British government has tried to highlight the benefits of having a happier workforce in order to encourage employers to pay greater attention to worker needs.
The devastating effects of overwork are most notable in Japan. The country’s ‘killer work ethic’ is sadly true; there is even a word for death from too much work – karoshi. There is even a national karoshi hotline.
The effects of over-working might be difficult to consider at present due to the financial crisis, but they are likely to make some people think twice about staying on at work for that extra hour. Perhaps the real balance is working to live, and not living to work.
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