Why working hard can actually be bad for your health AND career

Must See 17/08/2018

We've always been told that hard work pays off, and that the more effort you put in at work, the more likely you are to get a higher salary, a promotion, and be generally happier. 

A new study has found that this might not actually be the case.

Researchers from the University of London and ESCP Europe Business School found that employees that consistently put in extra effort reported poorer well-being, as well as being unsatisfied with job security and promotions. 

The researchers say that if employers relieve some of the pressure off their employees by letting them choose when and how they work, companies will see more productivity and loyalty from their workers. 

The study included 52,000 employees from 36 different European countries who participated in the European Working Conditions survey. The survey examines different aspects of working conditions, identifies groups at risk and monitors trends in the workplace. 

It was found that those who repeatedly put in high 'work intensity' (defined as tight deadlines and working at a fast pace) reported having poorer physical and mental health. Employees also reported that bosses weren't particularly impressed by the extra hard work. 

"One of the problems with increasing work intensity is that the quality and content of the work suffers. We think this is one of the negative associations in why workers say their bosses are not impressed", Dr Avgoustaki, assistant professor of management at ESCP Europe said. 

So working hard affects the quality of work, making bosses less likely to promote these employees or give them a raise, even though they are working harder.

"In many professions, people avoid breaks to get more done, but we want workers to realise it might help you to take a break or slow down a bit," Avgoustaki says. 

The researchers say on of the ways that workers can relieve some pressure is by choosing work hours or the method by which they complete their tasks:

"One of the management practices that we study in the paper is discretion, which would be freedom for the employee to choose when to do the work and how to do the work," co-author Dr Hans Frankort said.

"Discretion doesn't remove all the negative associations but it can be a considered as a partial remedy."

Previous studies have shown that long work hours can lead to physiological problems in employees. A study from the University of California followed bankers for nine years and found that, by the third year, they often developed tics such as nail-biting or conditions like insomnia. 

"They experienced their bodies antagonistically 'taking over', 'taking revenge' or 'fighting back'" wrote author Alexandra Michel. 

A study published this month by Pennsylvania State University found that poor mental health costs the US $53 billion dollars a year as employees take more days off and work slower. 

So the moral of the story is take it easy, and don't push yourself too hard. It'll end up costing you and your company more in the long run, both physically and mentally.