How Does Overworking Affect Physical and Mental Health?
Hard work is important in any job, but what does it mean when a seemingly admirable drive becomes dangerous to an employee’s physical and mental health?
French psychiatric professionals are reporting tremendous burnout in their patients. Recruiting firms in the United Kingdom also share fears of losing top employees to burnout. Overworking is causing serious problems for businesses all over the globe.
In fact, death due to burnout is so prevalent in Asian countries such as Japan, South Korea and China that the Huffington Post says they have specific words meaning “death due to overwork”: “karoshi”, “gwarosa” and “guolaosi”.
Burnout can lead to a range of physical health problems. Employees might experience poor sleep and increased chance of stroke. The mental health risks are no better, with a greater chance for depression, anxiety and even suicide.
Physical Health Problems from Work Stress
- Research on British civil servants in 2006 highlights a connection between work stress and metabolic syndrome. People with metabolic syndrome or “syndrome x” are at greater risk of diabetes, stroke and heart disease.
- Another study from 2015 further backed this verdict. It showed links between working longer hours and adverse health problems. Some of those included strokes and type 2 diabetes for those in lower socioeconomic status groups. The Harvard Medical School summarized the results. People who worked 55 or more hours a week increased their risk of heart attack by 13 percent. They were also, “33 percent more likely to suffer a stroke, compared with those who worked 35-40 hours per week.”
Burnout’s Mental Health Impact
- The CDC shares that over the past four years physical overexertion has been the second leading cause of injury and illness which kept employees from being able to go to work.
- Similarly, overworking has been linked to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. The WHO now considers depression the leading cause of disability. And as we covered recently, mental health has a huge impact on the global economy. Depression and anxiety now cost one trillion dollars every year due to lost productivity.
General Overworking Issues
- In one collection of data from Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, North Macedonia, Portugal, Romania and Türkiye, burnout was linked to more frequent painkiller use, higher fast food consumption, infrequent exercise, and higher alcohol consumption.
- And as Healthline points out, being overworked can mean many people forget (or simply do not have time to) properly eat or drink. This problem could potentially lead to hypoglycemia and dehydration. The immediate consquences from this trend may seem small, only causing hunger pans and cracked lips. But once they progress, severe cases may mean coma and death.
- Stress at work will likely impact both the quality and quantity of sleep an employee gets. We already know how rest can affect disease risk and immunity, but it could also greatly hinder other areas. Learning ability, appetite, mood may suffer. Mental illness could be one result, along with countless other parts of daily home and work life.
- According to Psychology Today, there are some clear signs of burnout. A person might show physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism, detachment, ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment. General manifestations include feelings of apathy and hopelessness, pessimism, anger, loss of appetite and more.
How These Issues Affect Your Business
But in the end, what does all this mean for your business?
Scholar Joel Goh estimates that workplace stress contributes to at least 120,000 deaths annually. The dispiriting trend costs approximately 125 to 190 billion dollars a year. That impressive total adds up to between five and eight percent of national spending on health care.
Burnout and overworking are not discriminatory. It affects people in creative fields as well as those in the healthcare industry.
Eurofund Senior Research Manager Agnès Parent Thirion recently commented on their 21st century burnout report. She said that, “instead of reacting after increases in workers experiencing difficulties, there should be more focus on prevention and combating some of the ill-effects of work – this should be the collective focus.”
Are you interested in learning more about how to prevent burnout in employees? Take a look at our article covering the useful steps that employers can take.
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Are you surprised to hear how many aspects of life are negatively impacted by overworking? How do you help your employees avoid burnout? Let us know in the comments below, or via Facebook and Twitter.
Written for Passport Health by Katherine Meikle. Katherine is a research writer and proud first-generation British-American living in Florida, where she was born and raised. She has a passion for travel and a love of writing, which go hand-in-hand.