Working 9 to 9: Protecting Your Workforce from the Health Dangers of Overtime
Anthony Burns, Commercial Director at Paycare
June 16 2021 - Working over and above contracted hours is something which has come to be expected by many employers and employees alike. And with a global pandemic plunging workforces into new territory and threatening the long-term future of millions of businesses around the world, it was accepted as a necessity last year for everyone to Ďpull togetherí and support in any way possible.
Yet, for many workers, overtime has tipped over from an occasional occurrence during busy times, near deadlines, and through worldwide health crises, to something far more regular. Even before Covid hit, it was estimated the average person in the UK was working 10 hours of overtime each week.
While overtime might seem like a positive thing for companies, long-term itís likely to be detrimental to the health of those loyal and hard-working employees. A study published by the World Health Organisation shows excess overtime can make workers (who regularly exceed 55 hours a week) 35% more susceptible to strokes and 17% more likely to die from heart disease - this means 750,000 people die a year from either a stroke or heart disease as a direct result of working long hours.
There are also worrying signs that the trend towards excess overtime has been increasing over many years (and the pandemic is unlikely to have helped), with their research showing that currently 9% of the total global population is working long hours.
So, what can employers do to ensure the needs of the business are met without endangering the health of the very people they want to retain within the organisation?
In todayís world, thereís an expectation of needing to work as hard as possible to achieve - so if you want your employees to prioritise their health and wellbeing, and to limit their overtime hours, then be clear and direct about whatís acceptable and whatís not.
Having comprehensive messaging around Workplace Wellbeing is crucial to ensure employees know whatís available to them in terms of perks and benefits, and are also clear on what the company expects (and doesnít) expect from them. Channels whereby they can voice their concerns if they do feel overworked are also a necessity.
With technology being such a large part of our working and personal lives, defining acceptable communications is a must to ensure staff arenít receiving work-related calls, texts, emails or WhatsApp messages out of hours, especially if they donít have two separate phones.
More than a third of us now undertake at least part of our working hours at home, meaning checking in has never been more important. Research is showing the working week has increased by up to 25% and separate studies suggest those WFH are putting in an extra 28 hours per month; itís difficult to determine exactly what hours someone is working if theyíre not sat in the same office as you - thatís why itís important to keep an eye on patterns such as emails being regularly sent late at night or during the weekend (if these arenít part of your normal working hours).
Itís worth noting that a change in working behaviours can be a sign of something underlying such as stress so, if coupled with other worrying symptoms, a gentle conversation around wellbeing may be in order. This is also where access to employee support such as an Employee Assistance Programme or GP app, and management training around Mental Health First Aid, can support team members feeling stressed and help leadership recognise issues before they escalate.
Having a Workplace Wellbeing strategy and access to physical and mental health benefits is one thing, but implementing a culture where employees donít feel they need to sacrifice their wellbeing in order to do their job successfully is just as important.
If all of the managers or senior team within your organisation are regularly working late, through weekends or even through their annual leave, then this sends out a message to the rest of the workforce.
Even if youíre encouraging your team to take breaks and work reasonable hours, by doing the opposite yourself itís reinforcing the belief that to progress upwards into management, long hours are a must. Thatís why communicating the message around overtime as an exception rather than the rule, and ensuring team leaders and managers also adopt that way of thinking, is a must.
A culture where health and wellbeing are prioritised will also see team leaders properly assessing the workload placed on their staff (almost a third of workers say they have too much work) and encouraging them to speak up if theyíre unable to complete that workload within a reasonable number of hours per day or week.
Having a properly-communicated Workplace Wellbeing policy which everyone is following, and ensuring colleagues know their health and wellbeing is high on the companyís agenda, is crucial to creating a culture where team members donít feel chained to their desks around the clock!
Since 1874, Paycare (formerly known as Patientís Aid Association) has worked to help individuals, families, businesses, and their employees access a variety of preventative and reactive healthcare services which protect their financial, physical and mental health and wellbeing. Its dedicated mental health service - Paycare Wellbeing - launched in 2019 and provides qualified and confidential training to corporate groups including managers, CEOs and HR teams.
For more information about instigating or developing a Workplace Wellbeing Strategy, please visit www.paycare.org/workplace-wellbeing.