Working overtime every day can increase your risk of early death, a UN report finds

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Working overtime every day can increase your risk of early death, a UN report finds
Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, Director-General at the WHO, said that working from home may contribute to this trend in the future.FABRICE COFFRINI / Contributor/Getty Images
  • A new study by the UN's World Health Organization found that working 55 hours a week is linked to an increased risk of early death.
  • The majority of people who died from overworking were men.
  • Working long hours is linked to heart diseases and diabetes.

Working 55 or more hours a week killed 745,194 people in 2016, according to a new study.

The study, conducted by the World Health Organization and International Labour Organization, was the first global analysis that studied the health risks associated with long work hours.

Researchers found that, worldwide, 745,194 died from either a stroke or heart disease that was linked to working 55 hours a week in 2016, up 29% than in 2000.

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"Working 55 hours or more per week is a serious health hazard," Dr. Maria Neira, director of the department of environment, climate change and health at the WHO, said in a statement.

The majority of deaths, 72%, affected men living in the Western Pacific and Southeast Asia regions.

The study also found that working 55 hours or more per week is linked to a 35% higher risk of a stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from ischemic heart disease compared to those working 35-40 hours a week.

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Researchers gleaned these rates from 2,324 cross-sectional surveys and 1,742 quarterly surveys about long work hours and exposure to diseases.

Although the study did not account for work hours in the pandemic, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, Director-General at the WHO, said that working from home may contribute to this trend in the future.

"Teleworking has become the norm in many industries, often blurring the boundaries between home and work. In addition, many businesses have been forced to scale back or shut down operations to save money, and people who are still on the payroll end up working longer hours," Ghebreyesus said in a statement.

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Time for a 4-day work week?

Neira called for a work reform in light of these new findings.

"It's time that we all, governments, employers, and employees wake up to the fact that long working hours can lead to premature death," Neira said.

In fact, there are some companies already pivoting to a four-day workweek. Research shows that having more downtime was linked to happiness, while long work hours lead to heart disease and diabetes.

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Ghebreyesus think it's time to scale back work hours, too.

"Governments, employers and workers need to work together to agree on limits to protect the health of workers," Ghebreyesus said.

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