Why You Should Stop Working Long Hours (And How To Stop It)

Have you ever wondered about the effect of long working hours on your health, wealth, relationships, and overall well-being? It’s no surprise that hard work has been idolized as something that gets you all the success you could ever want. Unfortunately, what most of society thinks about the idea of “hard work” are long working hours.

Our upbringing has thought us that long working hours show dedication, commitment, and perseverance. But when the need to work starts to interfere with health, personal happiness, and social functioning, it becomes a weight around our necks.

It’s understandable that when famous successful people brag about working long hours, we follow their lead. We believe that it will do it for us as well. When someone like Elon Must, the CEO of Tesla Motors and founder of SpaceX, proudly announces that 100 hours a week highly improves the odds of success, one might think that that’s the definite way to success.

But there is one thing that has been proven—the long-term negative effects far outweigh the short-term gains from working longer hours.

What reseach says about working long hours? Find out here:

  • A 2017 research showed that people working long hours are significantly more depressive and experience decreased sleep quality and anxiety symptoms.[1]
  • A 2018 study shows that long working hours don’t mean more productivity. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.[2]
  • A 2019 study showed that those countries that work the most often aren’t the most productive.[3]
  • A 2020 study showed that during the pandemic, people have put even more long working hours than before, leading to burnout.[4]

Given all these, there’s no wonder that more and more countries are looking into possibilities to reduce working days and working hours to boost productivity.[5] Companies that have a four-day workweek have found that it results in productivity increases because of reduced employee stress and improved focus.[6]

Why Do People Work Long Hours?

There are 3 main reasons why people work long hours: money, pressure, and resources.

  • Money (or the hunger for more): Whether you’re working for yourself or a company, money is of the biggest motivators. The double fee during overtime is a great motivation to stay at work a little bit longer just to finish another task. When you’re your own boss, the mentality of doing more often makes us believe in earning more. It’s part of the responsibility to keep the business running. If you won’t do it, who else will, right?
  • Pressure: If your colleagues are working late and if you leave early or on time, you’re often seen in a bad light. People working overtime are given rewards and recognition sending a wrong impression to the employees.
  • Resources (or the lack thereof): There are times when employees have to deal with double the workload. The combination of urgent deadlines and lack of manpower is a great pathway to long working hours.

4 Reason to Stop Working Long Hours

Have you ever wondered about the longer effects on your overall well-being of working long hours? I’m sure you can come up with some obvious ones. Agitation, tiredness, exhaustion are just surface damage.

Everything is interconnected in our bodies—one change affects the whole system. If you lack sleep, you are less productive, your make more mistakes, and the quality of your work drops.

To help you stop working long hours, let’s first look at the disrupting effect it leaves in our lives, business, work, and overall well-being. These are the 4 points that are worth your attention.

1. Your Physical Health

You don’t need an expert to tell you that long working hours are negatively affecting your health. Your body can’t run without refueling with food, rest, sleep, and exercise. When you work long hours, you don’t have time to refuel your body with the fundamentals it needs for optimal performance.

A new study of more than 143 ,000 participants found that those who worked 10 or more hours a day for at least 50 days per year had a 29% greater risk of stroke for both men and women.[7]

There have also been many studies done that show a direct correlation between long working hours and heart problems. Another research showed that employees working 40 to 55 hours per week have a higher risk of stroke compared to those working 35 to 40 hours per week.[8]

Aside from the stroke, there are many other health implications if you don’t find time to rest and refuel your body. These include sleep debt, diabetes, heart diseases, and obesity.

But it’s not only the long working hours. Apparently, irregular work hours and shift work is linked to negative effects on health including disruption of our circadian rhythm, sleep, accident rates, mental health, and the risk of having a heart attack.[9]

Other studies have found that these health concerns cost businesses $300 billion thanks to lowered productivity, absenteeism, and actual healthcare costs.[10] Evidence also suggests that long working hours are associated with the risk of injuries and accidents.[11]

2. Your Mental Health

Your mind is working hard every day. It means it also needs to rest. Long working hours mean more pressure on your mind and less time for it to rest.

Many studies over the years have shown a clear link between long working hours and increased stress, complaints, insomnia, depression, overeating, and excessive drinking. Several studies have found that working more than 55 hours per week increases the chance of experiencing depression and anxiety.[12]

It’s no news that socializing is necessary to keep mental health healthy. However, with long working hours, relationships suffer. Being too busy at work takes away time you can spend with family and friends. This leads to decreased concentration and thus, lowers productivity. No matter how long you spend on your work desk, you will achieve almost nothing.

Aside from long working hours’ effects on your work pace, your children might begin to underperform academically and behaviorally if you can’t devote time to them.

3. Your Overall Well-Being

Regularly working long hours results in poor work-life balance, leading to lower job satisfaction and performance as well as lower satisfaction with life and relationships [13]

More time at work means less time for yourself, your family, your social circle, which are huge sources of emotional support.

Several studies showed that long working hours decrease happiness, motivation, and life satisfaction.[14] The need to work long hours also harms family and social relationships and can increase family conflict.[15][16]

4. Your Productivity

It is wrong to assume that putting in long working hours will help get more work done. The general belief that working longer hours will help you get more done has been proven wrong. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that while employees in Greece worked 2042 hours in 2014, employees in Germany not only worked 1371 hours in a year, but they were also 70 percent more productive.[17] It is also very interesting that managers couldn’t tell the difference between the employees who had worked 80 hours per week and those who pretended to.[18]

Author Jonah Lehrer, in his book, Imagine: How Creativity Works, wrote: “If you’re an engineer working on a problem and you’re stumped by your technical problem, chugging caffeine at your desk and chaining yourself to your computer, you’re going to be really frustrated. You’re going to waste lots of time. You may look productive, but you’re actually wasting time.”

If you’re leading a team, your performance will also reflect on their work. With decreased productivity leading becomes more challenging.

Ron Friedman, in his research on long working hours impact on leading, concludes that overworked leaders make poor decisions and impaired judgments and have difficulty keeping their emotions in check.[19]

This is a fast road to a decrease in profits, revenue, and client satisfaction. Therefore, it’s not cost-effective to work more than 10 hours per day. But what’s also interesting are people’s perceptions regarding long working hours and time demands. Voluntarily opting to work longer hours as opposed to being pressured by one’s employer can translate into big differences in health and well-being. This can help explain why some people who work extended hours may display poorer physical and psychological well-being compared to others.

How to Stop Working Long Hours

Here are 10 suggestions on what you should start doing to get more done without overstretching your working hours and break the bad habit of working long hours. Even though changes will not happen in one day, with these suggestions, you can make sure that long working hours don’t become accruing pattern sabotaging your success.

1. Plan to Plan

It’s important to take the time to plan properly. When you do things as they come your way, you’re not only wasting your time but also putting in more effort into completing the tasks. Taking the time to plan out your day, week and month will give you much-needed structure with a clear path to take to reach your set goals much faster.

Take advantage of technologies that are at your disposal. There are so many tools that can help you plan, remind, and automate for better organization of your time.

2. Schedule Yourself First

It’s more difficult to fit your self-care routines in your plan when it’s already filled with work obligations. So, start with your non-negotiable self-care rituals that will provide much-needed rest of mind and body to recharge and boost your productivity. By adopting this habit, you will soon realize how much more you can achieve because you’re recharged and focused.

3. Prioritize Your Priorities

Not everything is important. A to-do list is a great tool to remind yourself of the tasks that need your attention, but it can very easily go out of control making you feel like a failure because it just doesn’t seem to end.

Identify two to three priority tasks that need to be done today. These are the essential tasks, and the rest can wait. Remember to put these tasks in a manageable size. If the task is too big, it’s much more likely to procrastinate on completing it until you meet the deadline, making it harder for yourself to plan accordingly.

4. Say “No”

Helping your colleagues is great, but make sure that you are not paying a cost for it. If your work suffers because of it, take a stand and refuse. You will realize that you are not only helping yourself but also your colleagues by making them more independent.

5. Stick to the Timing

Once you have decided to start work at a certain time and finish it at a certain time, keep yourself accountable and stick to these timings for your own sake. Getting up early might not be the most enjoyable thing to do, but it might be hugely beneficial. Most people find themselves being able to focus much better early in the morning. That helps to tackle top priorities before energy levels start to drop.

It’s important to train yourself to stick to leaving work on time. While you’re at work, give your 100% effort and you will not feel guilty about leaving on time.

6. Eliminate Perfectionism

Striving for perfection can be truly damaging. Instead, embrace your imperfections, give your best, and be at ease that it’s good enough. If you’re working long hours because you feel like your work could always be just a little bit better, it’s time to eliminate perfectionism. Decide how long a task should reasonably take and stick to it. Give your all during this time and you will be sure that it is good enough.

7. Silence Notifications

It’s the biggest time-waster that could very easily be eliminated, leaving you with more focus time to complete important tasks. Leaving your email open all day long is a very bad habit that keeps you distracted. Research shows that constantly monitoring your inbox promotes stress without improving efficiency.[20]. It’s simply because email notification tempts you to check what’s going on making you switch away from the task that you were doing. This forces your brain to work harder when you need to go back to your previous task.

8. Stop Consuming

There is so much information coming from so many directions that it takes a lot of work to keep up with everything. It’s great to be informed, but it’s very distracting. Decide what sources you want to keep consuming from and eliminate the rest. Limit the time you spend on each source to just have enough to be informed and then go back to your priorities.

9. Avoid Multitasking

While multitasking has been celebrated, it is highly damaging to your productivity and mental health. Multitasking is actually task switching. The more tasks you have to switch in between in a short time, the more exhausted your mind becomes. This leads to more mistakes, leaving you with more work to do later. The Guardian reports that multitasking increases the brain’s production of cortisol and adrenaline[21] This leads to stress doing damage to your health and productivity.

10. Batch Tasks

You will save much more time if you wait until you have enough of the same task to complete rather than completing tasks as they come along. It is a more efficient way that allows spending less time to increase productivity.

Final Thoughts

Long working hours might seem normal for those who are truly passionate about their work. If your work seems more like a hobby, you enjoy doing it every minute of the day. However, our body, mind, and overall well-being still need balance.

Working long hours occasionally is not bad, especially when you have urgent tasks you have to complete. The problem is when it becomes a recurring pattern. Looking for reasons behind it will give you clear indications on what areas need fixing. Career, success, money, and fame may be important, but everything has a price.

Long working hours don’t always translate to being more productive and successful. And the long-term consequences might cost much more than short-term gains.

Understanding your productivity flow and following it to achieve more in the time you have is important for work-life balance. Planning the time for yourself will give you a much-needed productivity boost and make you healthier and happier.

More Tips on Achieving Work-Life Balance

Featured photo credit: Victoria Heath via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Oxford Academic: Impact of working hours on sleep and mental health
[2] TUC: British workers putting in longest hours in the EU, TUC analysis finds
[3] World Economic Forum: This is where people work the longest – and shortest – hours
[4] Atlassian: Proof our work-life balance is in danger (but there’s still hope)
[5] CNBC: Why more countries are looking at four-day work-week option
[6] The Guardian: ‘Heck it was productive’: New Zealand employees try four-day week
[7] AHA Journals: Association Between Reported Long Working Hours and History of Stroke in the CONSTANCES Cohort
[8] The Lancet: Long working hours and risk of coronary heart disease and stroke: a systematic review and meta-analysis of published and unpublished data for 603 838 individuals
[9] BMJ Journals: Health effects of shift work and extended hours of work
[10] Harvard Business Review: Are You Working Too Hard?
[11] SpringerLink: Working hours, job stress, work satisfaction, and accident rates among medical practitioners and allied personnel
[12] NCBI: The Effect of Long Working Hours and Overtime on Occupational Health: A Meta-Analysis of Evidence from 1998 to 2018
[13] SpringerLink: Work-Life Balance: an Integrative Review
[14] Academy of Management: Happiness, Health, or Relationships? Managerial Practices and Employee Well-Being Tradeoffs
[15] Wiley Online Library: Work experiences and marital interactions: Elaborating the complexity of work
[16] APA PsycNet: Work-based resources as moderators of the relationship between work hours and satisfaction with work-family balance
[17] OECD.stat: Average annual hours actually worked per worker
[18] Harvard Business Review: Why Some Men Pretend to Work 80-Hour Weeks
[19] Harvard Business Review: Working Too Hard Makes Leading More Difficult
[20] New York Times: Stop Checking Email So Often
[21] The Guardian: Why the modern world is bad for your brain

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