After a German study of 57,000 people showed that more than half of the participants worked outside of their normal hours — e.g., working in the evening after leaving the office, and possibly not being compensated for this extra work — a movement to restrict working hours across the country is expected to show up in federal legislation soon.
Although much of this extra out-of-office work seems to materialize in the form of phone calls from co-workers on the weekends or emails from a boss in the evenings, and it seems feasible for workers to ignore the interruptions, it’s clear that the majority of workers aren’t leaving their work at the office.
Experts theorize that the explosion of the smartphone and easily accessible wi-fi has caused employees to feel obligated to check their work emails or answer work-related phone calls — in fact, employers might even expect employees to be reachable after-hours. Studies show that the average worker in a developed country puts in about 47 hours of work per week, while Europeans put in about 80 hours per week, and Americans work an astounding 90 hours per week on average.
The major problem with this trend isn’t just about employers taking advantage of technology in order to exhibit greater control over employees, or about increased miscommunication and decreased overall productivity; it’s about the real effects that so much stress has on the human body. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that studies have linked increased work hours with headaches, insomnia, anxiety, and fatigue. But it may surprise many readers that serious long-term health risks are involved as well. Muscular problems and cardiovascular problems are just two of the most common long-term health risks that have been linked to excessive work hours.
Ultimately, the conclusion that many researchers have reached is that regularly putting in overtime work might appear to increase production and efficiency at face value, but that employee health will suffer in the long run, and consequently businesses will begin losing money. In fact, it’s estimated that personal injuries and health problems incur more than $260 billion USD each year, and much of this money is lost through medical bills and the cessation of regular paychecks.
Big corporations have begun acting on this trend by limiting employee access to email accounts and company systems after the workday has ended, but public health officials are still concerned that small businesses will find it harder to restrict working hours. A large company can easily turn off email connections for thousands of employees, but small businesses often run on more informal systems that cannot simply be turned off.
While the proposed restriction on German employees’ working hours may seem like a dramatic move to many Americans, it might just be the only way to curb overtime hours for employees of small and large businesses alike.