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The end of the 9-to-5

Some organizations are moving away from the 8-hour work day to boost both morale and productivity

By Mat Luschek

“Workin’ 9 to 5, what a way to make a livin'.” Sorry, Dolly, those days are fading.

The traditional 8-hour work day is becoming extinct, according to recent evidence that shows working longer does not always mean being more productive. Other studies show working longer hours proves to be unhealthy.

Mistakes

Employees who are forced to (or voluntarily) work long hours without a break are more likely to develop fatigue and therefore more likely to make mistakes. While this may not be the end of the world to someone whose mistake is a typo, it can be deadly if, say, your job is an air traffic controller.

An article on Chron.com describes a study of work patterns performed by physician trainees in New Zealand, where trainees can legally be asked to work 72 hours in one week:

The researchers found that 42 percent of the physician trainees had made fatigue-related medical errors during one six-month period and 24 percent had fallen asleep at the wheel while driving home. Being asked to work varying schedules, including night shifts, made their fatigue worse.

Health

Ok, so falling asleep while operating a crane, or running over coworkers can be bad for other people’s health, but there are also other health concerns that aren’t as obvious.

A study conducted by researchers at University College London found that people who work more than 55 hours per week have a 33% increased risk of stroke. They also have a 13% increased risk of developing coronary heart disease. But don’t think just because you’re surfing the web or checking Facebook for two hours at work, that you’re in the clear. These health issues don’t stem from the kind of work you’re doing, but from being sedentary too long.

“Sudden death from overwork is often caused by stroke and is believed to result from a repetitive triggering of the stress response,” the researchers write. “Behavioural mechanisms, such as physical inactivity, might also link long working hours and stroke; a hypothesis supported by evidence of an increased risk of incident stroke in individuals who sit for long periods at work.”

Overworking has become a huge problem in some countries, like Japan. Again, the Chron explains:

The effects of working without a break have caused a national public health problem in Japan. Death from overwork while employed by a corporation is called "karoshi." Family members of employees who die of overwork can apply for a government pension and a large financial payout from the deceased employee's corporation. Many karoshi deaths result from fatigue and stress-based illnesses such as heart attacks and strokes. Karoshi-related suicides, called "karo jisatsu," are caused by long hours at work that trigger depression. Karo jisatsu deaths have fueled an ongoing increase in Japan's suicide rate since the year 2000.

 

Fixing the Problem

Now that we can identify when we’re working too much, what can we do about it?

Some companies are recognizing that stressed, overworked employees are not very productive, and are changing the workplace culture to accommodate.

Menlo Innovations, a company out of Michigan, has created an atmosphere that promotes working fewer than 40 hours per week. The company recognized that working overtime only produced inefficiency.

In Sweden, the government has begun experimenting with a 6-hour workday, after realizing long work days are unhealthy.

Entrepreneur explains the experiment at hand:

For one year, a group of municipal workers in Gothenburg, the country’s second-largest city, will have their workdays reduced to a mere six hours -- all while still earning full-time wages. Brought forth by the city council’s majority coalition of Social Democrat and Green parties, an executive committee will rule on the proposal today.

The economic experiment aims to stack up the performance of one group of employees who work 30-hour weeks against another group with standard hours -- both of whom will receive the same pay.

But what to do if the company doesn’t go for this policy, or the country you’re in isn’t Sweden?

Employees should be encouraged to take breaks. Divide the workday into sections, taking advantage of times that are known to be productive. Employees may be offered things to help take a mental break, like playing a game of ping pong or just going for a walk. The exercise will help their health and the break from work will help them stay focused while working.