The Downside To Working Long Hours

workers
A few months ago, Anheuser-Busch InBev head honcho Carlos Brito was quoted as saying that “every employee should behave like an owner-entrepreneur, committed to building the company.” That bullshit mantra favored by corporate leaders, known as “DWYL” (do what you love), is just another way to exploit workers, in the same way “monarchs used to tell about being ordained by God help us get through the day not by easing our pain, but by increasing our capacity for suffering.” As I noted at the time, I hate that way of thinking, and it completely pisses me off that they think anyone should fall for it. AlterNet had an interesting pice at the time that refuted that way of thinking, called Don’t Feel Like a Failure for Not Loving Your Corporate Job Enough.

Curiously, though not exactly a surprise, a recent meta-study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) entitled “Long working hours and alcohol use: systematic review and meta-analysis of published studies and unpublished individual participant data,” found that the more you work, the more at risk you are to drink too much. Anybody shocked to hear that? The study looked at 63 different studies, and in the aggregate reached the same conclusion. Too much work will drive you to drink. Here’s the abstract:

Objective To quantify the association between long working hours and alcohol use.

Design Systematic review and meta-analysis of published studies and unpublished individual participant data.

Data sources A systematic search of PubMed and Embase databases in April 2014 for published studies, supplemented with manual searches. Unpublished individual participant data were obtained from 27 additional studies.

Review methods The search strategy was designed to retrieve cross sectional and prospective studies of the association between long working hours and alcohol use. Summary estimates were obtained with random effects meta-analysis. Sources of heterogeneity were examined with meta-regression.

Results Cross sectional analysis was based on 61 studies representing 333 693 participants from 14 countries. Prospective analysis was based on 20 studies representing 100 602 participants from nine countries. The pooled maximum adjusted odds ratio for the association between long working hours and alcohol use was 1.11 (95% confidence interval 1.05 to 1.18) in the cross sectional analysis of published and unpublished data. Odds ratio of new onset risky alcohol use was 1.12 (1.04 to 1.20) in the analysis of prospective published and unpublished data. In the 18 studies with individual participant data it was possible to assess the European Union Working Time Directive, which recommends an upper limit of 48 hours a week. Odds ratios of new onset risky alcohol use for those working 49-54 hours and ≥55 hours a week were 1.13 (1.02 to 1.26; adjusted difference in incidence 0.8 percentage points) and 1.12 (1.01 to 1.25; adjusted difference in incidence 0.7 percentage points), respectively, compared with working standard 35-40 hours (incidence of new onset risky alcohol use 6.2%). There was no difference in these associations between men and women or by age or socioeconomic groups, geographical regions, sample type (population based v occupational cohort), prevalence of risky alcohol use in the cohort, or sample attrition rate.

Conclusions Individuals whose working hours exceed standard recommendations are more likely to increase their alcohol use to levels that pose a health risk.

working-hard

Unusually, the entire study is available online if you want to read the entire study, their methodology, the data sets and their analysis. But you probably don’t need to in order to come to the same conclusion. Being worked too hard by companies trying to squeeze every ounce of labor out of their salaried and even hourly employees is not good for them. People need to balance their work life with the rest of their lives. It may be a cliche that nobody every says on their death bed that they wished they’d spent more time at work, but that doesn’t make it any less true. As the class divide continues to widen, people are feeling increasing pressure to work longer hours just to keep their jobs, and employers are exploiting, encouraging and even requiring such behavior. In my own experience, my last corporate job required 60-hour work weeks, and I had to work from home a few hours every single Sunday, vacation, sick day, holiday or not. One of my biggest regrets was after having taken a week off to fly back to Pennsylvania to be with by father on his deathbed, he begged me to stay a few more days. The pressure to return to work was so great that I felt that I could not, and reluctantly I flew back to California. He died in his sleep while my plane was still in the air flying home to San Francisco. Our society is unhealthy when we’re expected to put our companies — which in reality care almost nothing for our loyalty and hard work, and would fire each and every one of us in an instant if it helped the share price or the bottom line — ahead of our personal lives. The more that becomes normalized, the worse off we’ll be as a nation. Working too long and/or too hard is not good for people.

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Comments

  1. Kiwi Peng says

    Hi Jay,
    I love this article!!! I also read your ABOUT page – thanks so much for sharing your life journey and career path with everyone.

    You are truly a wonderful and caring father! Hope Porter is living in a healthy and happy life:) Best wishes to y’all!

    I just felt super sentimental when I read your articles – and I thought it was important for me to share my feelings and support to you. Also, I love your interesting perspectives about BEER – will definitely coming back to follow up with more great reads!

    Cheers,
    Kiwi

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