Research links excessive hours with increased risk of stroke and heart problems

Apparently working just 15 hours a week extra could make a huge difference to your health. Researchers at University College London have discovered that people who toil away for more than 55 hours a week increase their risk of stroke by 33 per cent compared to those who work a 40-hour week. The 55-hours-plus club also increased their risk of coronary heart disease by 13 per cent.

“The existing research can’t definitely establish what causes the link between working long hours and stroke, but what we do know is that working longer hours means that you’re sitting for longer periods of time and probably experiencing elevated periods of stress,” explains Kate Pieroudis, Back to Work project manager at The Stroke Association. “It also leads to having less time to look after yourself and do things like take regular exercise and eat a balanced diet.”

So what can HR do to help mitigate the health risks for employees who seem to be permanently chained to their desk?

Raise awareness 

When employees understand the potential ill effects of staying in the office too long, they are more likely to do something about it. The Stroke Association calculates that 80 per cent of strokes could have been prevented through smarter lifestyle choices such as reducing alcohol intake and smoking.

Promote regular health checks

If you’ve got colleagues who are burning the midnight oil, encourage them to get their blood pressure checked, says Pieroudis. “High blood pressure is what we call the silent killer because there’s no other symptoms,” she says. She adds that checking blood pressure is a relatively straightforward process and can be done by a GP.

Lead by example

Richard Norris, Bupa’s small-mid corporate director, says that, if worried employers want their employees to look after their health, they need to be doing the same themselves. “By leaving on time, not sending emails late into the night and taking breaks, business leaders and HR professionals can demonstrate the right steps to take to keep healthy and well, and reduce future health risks,” he says.

It’s good to talk

“Regular one-to-one meetings with employees to ask questions about workloads can help to identify people who are overloaded and may be struggling, ensuring that advice and support can be given as quickly as possible,” says Norris. “This will encourage an environment where employees know they can discuss concerns at work openly and honestly and know that support is available if they need it.”

Assume nothing

Every employee has a different reason for staying late, so don’t, for example, automatically presume they need some projects taken off their plate. Pieroudis advises concerned employers to raise their worries with their staff but then put the onus on workers to look after their own health, rather than ‘nannying’ them over what they should do.

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