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Working 55 hours a week can be deadly

In 2016, more than 745,000 deaths from heart attack and stroke were due to overworking, according to a study from the WHO and the International Labour Organization.

Working 55 hours a week can be deadly
[Photo: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels]
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If working yourself to the bone means clocking at least 55 hours a week, it may actually be killing you. A new report from the World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization demonstrates how the cost of working atypically long hours has real, negative effects.

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According to the report, which focused on results from 2016, 398,000 people died from strokes and 347,000 died from heart disease as a result of working 55 hours or more per week. The global study is the first to examine the deterioration of health and life as a result of working long hours.

Between 2000 and 2016, overworking increased a person’s risk of heart disease by 42% and the risk of stroke by 19%. Compared to the typical 35-hour or 40-hour week, if a person worked 55 hours or more, the authors estimate their risk of ischemic heart disease increases by 17% and their risk of stroke by 35%. The deaths were more pronounced in men, middle-aged or older employees, and people living in areas of the Western Pacific and Southeast Asia.

The study adds that working long hours is on the rise globally. Currently, 9% of the entire population is working at least 55 hours. With more people working from home and businesses working around staffing shortages, more employees feel the pressure to remain on the clock. Fast Company previously reported on a 2021 employee engagement survey that showed more than half of the respondents were worried about appearing productive to their bosses, and 44% of these respondents compensated by working longer hours.

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As the WHO and ILO study shows, in addition to turnover and other burnout-related symptoms—such as fatigue and stress—working too long can potentially shorten your lifespan as well.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, states in the press release, “No job is worth the risk of stroke or heart disease. Governments, employers and workers need to work together to agree on limits to protect the health of workers.”

About the author

Diana is an assistant editor for Fast Company's Work Life section. Previously, she was an editor at Vice and an editorial assistant at Entrepreneur

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