Overworked employees face higher risks of stroke, heart disease: report

Warning comes amid staggering numbers of overworked Kiwis

Overworked employees face higher risks of stroke, heart disease: report

Many Kiwi workers are being pressured to work extended hours.

That’s according to a survey from Umbrella Wellbeing of over 7,000 New Zealand-based workers that revealed 14% feel pressured to work long hours at work.

Another 43% said they have to neglect some tasks because they have too much to do, and 44% said they work very intensively to meet work deadlines.

These findings add to the growing statistics that state New Zealand employees are under pressure to work beyond their regular hours. Research from Hays found that 82% out of almost 25,000 New Zealand respondents feel pressured to remain connected even after work.

Negative impact on health

Overworking employees can cause higher stress and burnout, decreased job satisfaction, as well as lower productivity, according to Dougal Sutherland, chief executive officer of Umbrella Wellbeing.

This circles back to another study from Unispace, where 39% said the expectation to remain online even at home is causing them to feel burned out.  

But burnout and lower productivity aren't just the adverse impact of overworking, according to Sutherland.

"What's even more worrying is that working long hours (more than 55 hours per week) heightens the risk of stroke or heart disease," Sutherland said in a statement published on Scoop.

According to the report, there are two reasons why overworking might lead to such "adverse health conditions":

  • The more we work, the more likely it is that out physiological stress response is activated, triggering harmful changes throughout our bodies when this stress is ongoing.
  • People who work longer hours are more likely to adopt unhealthy behavioural responses to this heightened stress—including substance use, bad eating habits, lack of exercise, and disrupted sleep — all of which are also risk factors for illness and disease.

What can employers do?

While balancing employee workload with business goals can be a challenge, Sutherland stressed that this is "one challenge that's too important to get wrong."

"Considering how many of our workers feel pressured to work long hours, as organisations we need to be asking how long we can accept this level of risk and whether overwork should be normalised in our society," Sutherland said.

The report suggested the following measures to manage employees' workloads:

  • Know how to spot signs of overload and underload in your team.
  • Review, communicate, and set clear policies.
  • Enhance your human resource practices.
  • Encourage oscillation between work and recovery.
  • Promote autonomy in the workplace.
  • Monitor job stress levels across your workforce.

"For business leaders and decision-makers, addressing workload management can lead to a positive work environment, increased employee retention, and a more productive workforce," Sutherland said.

"Importantly, overwork is not the same as 'working hard' – we know people generally thrive with some degree of challenge and engagement, but it can't come at the expense of well-being."

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