Researchers in Finland have derived a definitive connection between working long and erratic hours in office, and compromising on sleep, with a poor health in the golden years of life. The study which spanned two and a half decades, confirms the notion that unhealthy work practices today will impact you for the rest of your life.
What is the study?
The study, published in Age and Ageing, used data from Helsinki Businessmen Study to follow the health outcomes for 3,490 white men born between 1919 and 1934. About half the respondents had provided clinical characteristics of health, self-rated health, working hours and sleep duration in 1974 – when they were in their 40s.
By combining working hours and sleep duration, four categories were formed: (i) normal work (≤50 hours/week) and normal sleep (>47 hours/week); (ii) long work (>50 hours/week) and normal sleep; (iii) normal work and short sleep (≤47 hours/week); and (iv) long work and short sleep.
They were again surveyed in the year 2000, when they were mostly in 60s and 70s.
What did they find out?
The category of men who worked over 50 hours a week, and slept less than 47 hours a week, at midlife, were worse off than their peers who had better work and sleep habits. Respondents who worked long and slept less scored poorly on physical functioning, vitality and general health as compared to those who had healthier habits in their work life. Even after adjusting factors like midlife smoking and self-rated poor health, the category of men who worked most and slept the difference in the overall health status remained significant with that of others.
What do the results imply?
Dr. Mikaela Birgitta von Bonsdorff, from the University of Jyvaskyla, lead author of the study has been quoted saying several professions today face the same challenges, as the concept of a stipulated number of working hours is on the decline.
Furthermore, the study should serve as an eye-opener to the new-age professionals who consciously choose to compromise on their health, under the assumption that their future health will not be affected by the decisions they make today, and the fact that they are in their prime will make them immune to bad lifestyle choices.
Technological advancements have made it easier to carry work from office to home, and have made being constantly available, to deal with the urgent emails and the important phone call, the new norm. As a result, the necessary time period that one needs to remain disengaged from work has shrunk considerably in the last few years. This has sent the amount of time we are exposed to stress through the roof, and also adversely impacted sleeping patterns. Worse off, are certain sectors (like call centre employees) that are scheduled to work on such unhealthy time frames.
The stress of unrelenting competition, the indispensible need to hang onto a job, coupled with intrusive work lifestyles that we have today, are forcing us to make difficult choices, which are likely to cost us in the long run. The respondents of this study were employed during the 70’s and 80’s, when lives, personal and professional, were unarguably simpler. Therefore, to imagine the consequences of our work choices on our health tomorrow is scary and unimaginable in equal parts. The onus to undo the damage rests equally on the employee, and the employer, to ensure that the culture of unhealthy lifestyle choices at work is discouraged, and there is a genuine effort to establish wellness and balance for everybody involved.