Why Working Hard Is Harmful: What Science Says About The Risks Of Office Life

By | June 10, 2021

WE SPEND A HUGE PART OF LIFE AT WORK – it is no wonder that the influence of everyday life on the psyche of employees, and on the general state of health, seriously engages scientists. Researchers from Harvard have found that flight attendants, for example, are at risk for several types of malignant tumors. A team of Swedish scientists found that bricklayers, electricians and other people forced to work in polluted air are twice as likely to get rheumatoid arthritis. Occupational burnout is common, according to research from the Stanford School of Medicine, about half of doctors. Negatively affects the health and sedentary lifestyle of office workers. We figure out what causes the greatest harm to health at work and how the situation can be improved.

Three hours a day, four days a week

If you think that the working day should be as short as possible, you are right. Scientists at University College London argue that working hard is really harmful – and not only because then there is no time for anything. An analysis of the health indicators of 85,494 men and women from Denmark, Sweden, Finland and the United Kingdom found that this approach can trigger stroke, heart failure and dementia in the long term. At the same time, an eight-hour working day does not mean that a person works all eight hours without a break – as it turned out, people do not work even half of this time. One study showed that the average employee works for 2 hours 53 minutes a day – and this allows us to talk about the prospects for a three-hour work day, which will not reduce productivity, but increase motivation.

By the way, about motivation: while theorists were arguing whether the reduction in working hours would lead to a decrease in productivity, the New Zealand company Perpetual Guardian reduced the working week to four days as part of an experiment. For two months, the company’s management provided all its employees with an additional and, what is important, a paid day off – and after the end of the control period, it assessed how this affected profit. A large-scale analysis showed that the company’s profit did not decrease at all, and the motivation of employees even increased. They eventually decided to make the four-day work week permanent – although it is not yet clear whether the results will hold if what was an experiment turns into a routine.

By the way, scientists have explained why most of us hate Mondays: it turns out , it’s all about compensatory sleep during the weekend, disrupting circadian rhythms, as well as the emotional contrast of Monday and Sunday. As part of restoring productivity after the weekend, they advise you to be more realistic with your to-do lists, leaving yourself plenty of time for each of them. In other words, what can be postponed until Tuesday is best postponed until Tuesday. Although there is no official diagnosis of workaholism (work is still perceived as something positive because of the financial reward), an unhealthy obsession with work can become a real problem that affects all areas of a person’s life. The Japanese learn to cope with this with the help of inemuri – a short restorative nap on benches in parks, in cafes, or right in a meeting.

Stress and gender inequality

It has been proven that women suffer more at work than men. This happens because employers, as a rule, do not give them enough opportunities for self-realization – it is known that the impostor syndrome in relation to work in women and men manifests itself in different ways. Men, in response to professional criticism, usually show deterioration in work, while women in such a situation, on the contrary, tend to make double efforts to show the result that was expected of them. Another non-obvious manifestation of gender inequality: psychologists from Cornell University found that when talking about professionals, men are much more likely than women to be called by their last name – and such a mention automatically increases the importance of a person in the minds of those who are not familiar with him.

Our well-being at work can be influenced by the type of activity itself. Among the most stressful – that is, the maximum impact on mental health – professions regularly are social workers, nurses, teachers, and business owners. On the other hand, those who are engaged in manual labor are less susceptible to stress – we are talking about repairing cars, installing air conditioners or pottery workshops. As for professions that are characterized by psychopathic personality traits (lack of empathy, inflated self-esteem, the need to manipulate others), then the list will include government officials, lawyers, journalists, sales professionals, police officers and clergymen.

Microbes in the building: what to fear in the office

It would seem that office work is one of the most dust-free options. It rarely involves a lot of physical labor – and although intellectual work can be no less easy, it is not so traumatic. On the other hand, it is wrong to think that the office can only harm mental , but not physical health. Millions of pathogens lie in wait for us in the office – and not only in obvious places like the toilet. Bacteria such as E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Helicobacter pylori and Pseudomonas aeruginosa (Pseudomonas aeruginosa) live in offices, according to a study from the University of Arizona. Analysis of the bacterial environment showed that more than 3 thousand microbes per square centimeter live on monitors and chairs, and more than 4 thousand microbes per square centimeter on office phones.

The situation is even worse in the office kitchen, where the box of tea bags is kept. Scientists say that it can contain up to 4 thousand bacteria, while on the rim of the toilet, which we used to consider the dirtiest place in general, on average, about 300 microorganisms live. How is this possible? The problem, the authors of the experiment explain, is that almost 80% of people do not wash their hands before making drinks for themselves and colleagues. And this, obviously, should be done. And remember that in public toilets, the most dangerous places are not the toilet, but the doorknob and the flush button.

How sedentary work is killing us (and what to do about it)

Work kills, scientists say, referring to a sedentary lifestyle. After studying information on approximately 8,000 people over the age of 45, staff at the Columbia University Medical Center concluded that those who spend most of their working day in a sitting position die earlier than their peers. Modern experts are increasingly talking about the ” office syndrome ” as a whole complex of diseases – it includes diseases of the musculoskeletal system, migraine, dry eye syndrome, varicose veins, hemorrhoids and some other conditions provoked by the same sitting position.

No less often than about the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle in general, doctors talk about its dangers in conjunction with overeating and obesity. Scientists have found that nearly a quarter of office workers eat an extra 1,300 calories per week, with 70% of this coming in the form of sugar-infused coffee, sweetened drinks, sandwiches, cookies and candies provided by companies in unlimited quantities – so a bonus in the form of free cookies can respond not in the best way. The information is supported by another study, which found that an average woman in the office consumes one hundred thousand extra calories per year – and this is consistent with the data that women who workaholics are more likely to have diabetes.

In this sense, an interesting experiment conducted by Google led by researchers from Yale University. It found that when there is an unlimited number of snacks in the workplace, we always take more than we need. In addition, it turns out that people eat more foods located at eye level in the office kitchen and are less likely to choose those located below – which can be used to strategically arrange fruits and vegetables and make sweets less attractive. The experiment with sweets for secretaries says the same : when the box was right on the table, workers ate 48% more than when it was a couple of meters away from the table.

Fortunately, there is still a chance to make sedentary work less harmful. Studies have found that even minimal activity – no less than two minutes every hour – can help reduce the risks associated with premature death and severe weight gain. What won’t do, such as standing up, has been found to burn just 0.15 extra kilocalories per minute.

Light, internet, business trips

If your company has restrictions on social media and entertainment sites like YouTube, tell your boss about one recent study that found that surfing the Internet during the working day does not affect employee productivity in any way. On the other hand, when it comes to constantly checking a phone that a person literally cannot let go of, the situation may not be so safe. It has been shown to markedly increase stress levels while lowering overall levels of happiness and well-being. Well, there is not far to “fabbing” – the habit of being distracted by the phone during personal conversations – with all its destructive consequences .

What you really need to look out for at work is getting enough lighting. Scientists at the University of Michigan have found that dim lighting, which may seem cozy to some, reduces the activity of the hippocampus – the region of the brain responsible for memory and learning – by 30%. Frequent business trips also negatively affect the state of the body : according to a study conducted at Columbia University, they are fraught with an increase in anxiety and depressive moods, impaired sleep quality and a tendency to uncontrolled alcohol consumption.

And yet, work has an obvious positive aspect – salary. And its importance for health is confirmed by science. A group of scientists from Harvard Business School and the University of British Columbia have found that money can buy happiness if you spend that money on entrusting someone with unpleasant work (say, cleaning an apartment with a cleaning service, and shopping for groceries – online hypermarket). This, the authors note, gives us not so much a feeling of happiness as free time that can be spent on what we really like.

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