Longer working hours causing increased deaths in APAC
A new report from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) says long working hours led to 745,000 deaths in 2016, up 29% on since 2000.
Work-related disease is particularly impacting men (72% of deaths were men) and people living in the Western Pacific and South-East Asia. Most deaths were among those aged 60 to 79, who worked 55 hours or more per week between the ages of 45 and 74.
The number of deaths from heart disease due to long working hours rose by 42%, and from stroke by 19%.
COVID-19 pandemic sees working hours rise
The number of people working long hours is increasing, accounting for 9% of the global population. This puts more people at risk of work-related disability and early death.
Working long hours is now responsible for about one-third of the total work-related burden of disease and puts more emphasis on a more psychosocial occupational risk factor.
The analysis comes as the world is working even longer hours due to the COVID-19 pandemic and people working harder from home.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed the way many people work,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “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. 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.”
The report says stakeholders can take the following actions:
- governments can introduce laws, regulations and policies that ban mandatory overtime and ensure limits on working time
- employers and workers can arrange working time to be more flexible and agreeing on a maximum number of working hours
- employees could share working hours
The report was published in Environment International.
Could HR technology solve Hong Kong’s culture of overworking
It has long been common practice for employees across the world to work beyond their contracted hours, with staff feeling pressured to put the company’s needs before their own. But this can have a consequential impact on employees’ health, as long working hours create a poor work-life balance and demotivational working environment. This is particularly evident in workforces across Hong Kong, where employees are working an additional 24 hours during the week due to the rising issue of presenteeism. As a result, productivity in the region has dropped, and the health and wellbeing of workers have suffered.
Technological advancements have created a culture where staff feel obliged to be ‘always on’, and respond to calls and e-mails when they’re out of the office. The demand for increased working hours means that businesses are losing capacity through burnt-out staff who are struggling to care for their health while meeting the requirements of their work. Companies in Hong Kong that were once able to retain their staff through an attractive salary package must now consider expanding the perks they offer their workforce that can help support them in achieving a better work-life balance.
Although the UK still has progress to make, workplaces in Hong Kong can learn from businesses in the UK which have made considerable efforts to identify causes of stress at work and taken the steps to reduce these. UK employers are prioritising the wellbeing of their employees and through adopting policies such as flexible working, working from home and offering access to health and wellness tools, they are able to provide enhanced support to their team.
By incorporating a health engagement platform into a human resources strategy, HR leaders in Hong Kong can create a positive working environment and improve morale within their team, as well as encourage and incentivise staff to take action and introduce healthy habits into their daily routines. This will also assist in tackling a disengaged workforce, reducing absenteeism and boosting motivation – all factors that have been a problem in Hong Kong’s working culture.
Employees both in the UK and Asia should also take the steps to look after their own health so they don’t fall victim to burnout. Employers should encourage their staff to take regular breaks throughout their day, whether it’s to practise mindfulness techniques or simply take a walk. Stepping away from their desk and spending time outside will help to reduce stress and clear their mind.
Transforming attitudes to work in Asia is not a straightforward task and it will take time for age-old cultural and business practices to change. However, there are steps businesses can take to aid employees in living a happier, healthier lifestyle. Through implementing a wellness plan, businesses can support their employees in pursuing a healthy work-life balance and encourage them to improve their lifestyle both in and out of work. Not only will this create happier employees, but it will also lead to running a more profitable business as staff take control of their health.