How much work is too much?

How Much Work is Too Much Work

How Much Work is Too Much?

The chances are, if you’re employed in full-time work – especially if you work day to day confined to an office environment– the thought of “I’m working too much” has at some point crossed your mind.

Indeed, it’s a problem as old as time: there are only so many hours in the day, and we often find ourselves spending more and more of them chained to a desk, or elsewhere. It’s also a very British problem – UK full-time workers are at it for an average of 42 hours a week, one of the highest of all EU countries.

In a world where how much time you spend at the office often means the difference between a promotion and a plateau, how much work is too much work?

How much is too much?

Though it often seems as if there’s no limit to how long you can stay behind at the end of a working day – especially if you’ve got a lot on your plate – there is a legal limit to how long you’re able to work for in a week.

Legally, you can’t work more than 48 hours a week on average. This is because of Working Time Regulations (1998) – the same reason you get at least 4 weeks holiday. You can, however, opt out of the 48-hour week, and in fact many workers do; it’s just a question of whether or not you should.

If you are working more than 40 hours per week, and you have no desire to do so, make sure you check out your contract   – the likelihood is you are not legally obliged to do so.

The effects of working too much

All those extra hours worked can add up, and result in detrimental effects on your life in and outside of work – some of these ‘symptoms’ of working too much are very serious.

Lack of sleep

It may seem obvious, but working longer hours week after week means you get less time to sleep, and this can be very detrimental to your health. A lack of sleep can affect your mood, and increase the risk of some conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.

Research by Penn State University has shown that 8 and a half hours sleep is the ideal amount, so consider going home in time to get them.

Excessive alcohol consumption

Studies suggest that working longer than 40 hours per week can make you more likely to drink a ‘risky’ amount of alcohol. Risky alcohol use is defined in the above example as more than 14 drinks/week among women and more than 21 drinks/week among men.

Working long hours doesn’t help productivity…

…mainly because we don’t work the whole time we are the office. According to a study by across nearly 2,000 participants, out of an eight hour day, the average employee works for about three hours — two hours and 53 minutes to be exact.

Staying still doesn’t help

Whilst working too many hours a week could be doing real damage to your health, staying still for the majority of that week could be far worse for you. A group of researchers at Columbia University Medical Center earlier this year found that, in a group of 8,000 workers over the age of 45, the average period of inactivity was 12.3 hours a day. These workers were twice as likely, the study found, to die prematurely, compared to those who were inactive for 11.5 hours.

For years we’ve all heard how stretching at your desk can help with mobility, but studies like these show it could also help with your overall health.

Even better, getting up and walking around the office, or wherever you work day-to-day, can improve mobility. Why not take it even further? Go on a walking meeting!

Overtime explained

‘Overtime’ is a word that some workers may never hear, as only certain types of jobs have any kind of overtime system in place at all. Overtime has always been a bittersweet system – on one hand, it allows someone to earn more money over their paycheck, which can come in handy, on the other hand, employers have been known to exploit it.

How much overtime can you work?

First of all, it’s important to remember that you only have to work overtime if your contract says so. Look back at that if the situation occurs where you are being asked to, or want to work overtime.

Secondly, remember there is a legal limit for working hours per week. If you are exceeding 48 hours per week, and if you haven’t arranged to opt out of the legal hours set by Working Time Regulations, then your employer may be breaking the law.

Making the most of your time

In today’s society, how hard you work is often seen as one of the most valued qualities you can possess, but that shouldn’t always equate to how long you spend chained to a desk.

Remember to take some time out of your day to breathe.

When you work non-stop from 9 to 5, or similar, it’s important to take a break occasionally. Get up and go to a different part of the office (remember how important it is to stretch your muscles) and get a change of scenery.

Even better, go outside and get some fresh air – a study by researchers at Harvard University found that breathing better air led to significantly better decision-making performance.

Most importantly, whatever kind of environment you work in, the most important thing you can remember is to do what feels right for you. Everyone has their limits, and – regardless of what is in your work contract – you should never push yourself over that limit. Be kind to yourself.

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Daniel Cody

Daniel Cody is SEO Editor at the New Statesman, and the creator of No Majesty. He is the host of the podcast Britain on the Rocks.