Physical and psychological impacts seen in employees who work too much

August 9, 2021
Physical and psychological impacts seen in employees who work too much

New research once again addresses the impact of working too much – this time, participants from universities in Australia reported varying degrees of physical and psychological distress, when expected to respond to work calls, emails, or texts outside of business hours. This research echoes previous studies that have demonstrated the negative impact of continued work outside office hours.

Forced to work from home because of the pandemic, many employees feel a need to stay connected after work hours with colleagues who are assumed to be working more than they are, according to the latest study by media outlet The Conversation. The nonexistent work boundaries can lead to significant distress manifesting as tension headaches, memory problems, insomnia, chronic fatigue, depression, back and shoulder pain, and so on.

Related: Risk of depression three times more likely in toxic workplaces

In a survey of more than 2,200 participants, at least 21% reported that their supervisors expected them to maintain digital communication outside of work hours: those in this group were more likely to feel psychological distress (70.4% to 45.2%), emotional exhaustion (63.5% to 35.2%), or physical ailments, such as back pain and headaches (22.1% to 11.5%). Expectations from colleagues created almost identical amounts of distress to those from supervisors.

[These results may be partially attributed to the 30% of participants who reported digitally communicating with coworkers on weekends and expecting a same-day response. Another 55% of people sent work-related emails to colleagues in the evenings.]

This research echoes the findings of 2016 study which saw that the expectation alone of having to answer emails after work hours leading to burnout and lower work-family balance; while a more recent 2021 study noted that people who are stressed from working more than 55 hours each week are about 35% more likely to have a stroke and 17% more likely to die from ischaemic heart disease than those working 35 to 40 hours each week.

Dr. Desreen Dudley, a licensed clinical psychologist with telemedicine provider Teladoc, explained how a “feeling of inadequacy when comparing oneself to fellow co-workers is more prone to developing with remote work, given that one isn’t seeing others physically leave the office to end their workday,” can create a negative cycle.

She cautioned that living and working in the same place can lead to ineffective time management as your structure disappears, thus making you feel more stressed to complete everything and working longer. It can also diminish boundaries between work and your personal life and limit the time you have to recharge and enjoy yourself outside of work. Losing this time for yourself and your loved ones can be detrimental.

 “Extended time spent on work comes at the cost of cutting corners in your daily lifestyle. You may have to compromise on your regular exercise time or meals or downtime to keep up, which will affect your well-being in the long run,” added Rashmi Parmar, a psychiatrist for Community Psychiatry, in California, US. She said that dealing with this can be especially tricky for people working in small or crowded homes, but that even people commuting to work can struggle to create a balance.

Thankfully, some expert-approved tips may help alleviate the stress of working from home and create sought-after boundaries between work and personal life:

  • Have a designated workspace

Having a specific place to work – even if it’s a little nook or a particular chair you always sit in, essentially somewhere you can consistently go to for work— can create a small sense of separation. This place can be avoided during other hours, suggested Stephanie Harrison, founder and CEO of mental health platform The New Happy, US.

  • Use a transition to start and stop work

Listening to specific songs only when you start and finish work, for example, will help you recognise that it’s time to switch from one mental space to another and ease the transition to/from work. If music isn’t your thing, try another activity you enjoy, such as exercise or listening to a short audiobook or podcast.

  • Maintain a routine

Schedule your day around times when you are most and least productive; by leaning into what works for you, it’s less likely you’ll feel the need to dive into extra tasks after hours. It will also give you time for things you enjoy throughout the day. “It is important to set aside enough time for meals, exercise, relaxation, and sleep so that these areas of your life are not compromised,” said Parmar.

The pressure to stay connected will slowly take a toll on a person’s overall mental and physical wellbeing – the overarching message is to remember to take care of yourself first.

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Category: Education, Features

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