Spotlight on Health and Wellbeing: The impact of working long hours

Flexible working in Legal Services

There is a growing body of evidence showing the impact working long hours has on employees health and wellbeing.

27 July 2017

A study that used data collected 20 years ago by the American Journal of Epidemiology (the study of the prevention of illness) examined the association between long working hours and cognitive function in middle age.

Data was collected in 1997–1999 and again in 2002–2004 from 2,214 British civil servants who were in full-time employment, by completion of cognitive tests. Those that worked 55 hours per week compared with those working 40 hours per week at most, were found to achieve lower scores in the vocabulary and reasoning tests. This study shows that long working hours has a negative effect on cognitive performance.

So what has changed in the last 20 years? The norm is still for people to work long hours and these employees' working habits are often seen as a sign of commitment, a ‘badge of honour’ in order to get noticed and promoted, however long hours at work makes this work less productive and staff unhappier, and can make them more resentful for the impact on their life outside of work.

Instead of celebrating staff who work long hours, we should celebrate those that work smart and get their job done in the hours they should be working, so that they can rest and recover, enjoy their life outside of work and come back to work refreshed.

A 2016 study in Australia from the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research study went further, they studied 6500 Australians aged 40 and over and found that working for more than 25 hours a week does your brain more harm than good. And alarmingly, for those working 60-plus hours a week, their brains are performing worse than if they didn't work at all!

They found that cognitive function steadily increased for every hour worked up to 25 hours a week. For every hour worked beyond that, cognitive function steadily declined, this was because of the physical and psychological stress associated with working long hours. This suggests that in order to be as productive as possible and reduce stress, part time work is better, between 20-30 hours per week. Interesting, there were no statistical differences between the results for men and women.

Based on this, think of your full time employees, working 35/40 hours per week within your organisation. Do you see lack of productivity, burn-out, stress, sickness and mental health issues? Consider the possibilities of offering those staff part time hours, job sharing and more flexibility over their roles, enabling them to focus on the job that you need them to do and not the hours that you want them to do it in! They will be less stressed, more productive and happier employees which will have a positive impact on your culture, lets be honest happy staff = happy customers!

Flexology work with clients through recruitment and consultancy, to understand and solve their people challenges and find them skilled, talented professional individuals with flexibility in their roles to ensure they can do their best work.