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17 September 2015

TUC warns of the re-emergence of ‘Burnout Britain’

The number of people working excessive hours has risen by 15% since 2010, according to a new analysis from the British trade union confederation TUC. The number of employees working more than 48 hours per week has now reached 3,417,000 – up by 453,000 since 2010 – following more than a decade of decline in long hours working.

Regularly working more than 48 hours per week is linked to a significantly increased risk of developing stress, mental illness, heart disease and strokes and diabetes. Illnesses caused by excessive working time put extra strain on the health service and the benefits system, as well as impacting on co-workers, friends and relatives. Many people are working unpaid overtime and at least a million report that they want to cut their excessive hours. The TUC says that the government should reassess its negative view of the EU Working Time Directive, which has been brought into UK law and stipulates a 48 hour working week. Many long hours employees report that they feel pressured to ‘opt-out’ from the 48 hour limit as a condition of employment - individual opt-outs are currently allowed by law.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Britain’s long hours culture is hitting productivity and putting workers’ health at risk.”

People who work at least 55 hours a week are significantly more likely to eventually suffer a stroke than people who work 35 to 40 hours a week, according to a study published last August in The Lancet.

The researchers pooled the data from 25 studies in Europe, the U.S. and Australia that tracked more than 600,000 workers for seven to eight years on average. Participants had no history of stroke or coronary heart disease when they enrolled in the studies.

As working hours got longer, stoke risk increased, the researchers found. Working at least 55 hours per week increased stroke risk by 33 percent compared to working a standard full-time job 40 hours per week, even when age, sex and socioeconomic status were accounted for.

There was also an increase in heart disease risk, but the association was weaker and the risk was smaller, the authors wrote in The Lancet.

Further reading:

TUC: 15 per cent increase in people working more than 48 hours a week risks a return to ‘Burnout Britain’, press release (9 September)

The Lancet: Long working hours and risk of coronary heart disease and stroke: a systematic review and meta-analysis of published and unpublished data for 603 838 individuals (20 August 2015)

HesaMag # 5: Paying the price for putting in the hours, downloadable freely from the ETUI website

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