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Thursday, 2 September, 1999, 12:29 GMT 13:29 UK
Long hours 'do damage your health'
Stressful jobs and long hours make an unhealthy package
Consistently working long hours will damage your health, according to a leading stress specialist.

But people who work long hours voluntarily are likely to be less affected, says Professor Carey Cooper of the University of Science and Technology in Manchester.

He says there needs to be a better balance between work and home life.

His comments come as an ICM poll shows that 26% of workers say they have fallen ill as a result of workplace stress.

Some admitted stress had led to screaming matches with their colleagues.

The Trades Union Congress says the policy of the UK, which has the longest working hours in the European Union, of allowing opt-outs from the EU Working Time Directive mean the protection it offers can be circumvented.

The opt-outs mean people can work over the 48-hour a week limit on a "voluntary" basis.

The TUC says they enable managers to pressure staff to work longer hours under threat of losing their job or being overlooked for promotion.

A BBC poll, published in September, shows one in five workers are being forced to sign opt-outs from the directive, introduced last October.

Britain has the longest working hours in the European Union.

The nature of the job

Professor Carey, who has been looking at the issue of workplace stress for many years, says there is "a clear relationship between ill health and consistently working long hours".

But he adds that if a job is very stressful, for example, involving life-saving surgery or making big financial decisions, even a 40-hour week could damage health.

"It depends on the nature of your job," he said.

"And we believe people who are forced to work long hours are more affected than those who voluntarily work more than 48 or 50 hours a week."

He has been carrying out a quality of life survey for the Institute of Management for the last three years.

He says the hours British managers are working is "horrendous".

"Three out of four say long hours are damaging their family life, 60% say they are damaging their health. Relationships and productivity are also affected."

He blames job insecurity, the work ethic and the fact that people want to show commitment to their job and that they are not "wimps" for Britain's overwork culture.

"We have to understand that long hours does not mean workers are more productive. If you work an extra two or three hours a week there is probably no increased productivity," he said.

"And there may even be a negative impact with workers having to repair mistakes they have made through working too long hours."

Increasing demands

Professor Cooper says the advent of email, mobile phones and other instant forms of communication are making the situation worse.

"People are being put under more and more demands," he said.

"We have to get a reasonable balance between home and work.

"The UK has one of the highest divorce rates in Europe. This is a sure result of inflexible working relationships, the fact that both partners are working in two out of three couples and long hours."

He said managers needed to trust their staff more and not feel they have to have them under their nose all day.

"They like to have their empire in front of them, but people may work better, for example, if they do some work from home and can spend more time with their families."

Health and safety

The Health and Safety Executive, which is conducting a huge survey into workplace stress to be published in early 2000, says preliminary results show one in five workers say they are "very" or "extremely" stressed at work.

Reasons for this include long hours and lack of support at work.

The Health and Safety Commission, which is investigating whether employers should be prosecuted over stress at work, estimates that up to half a million people a year are affected.

See also:

02 Sep 99 | Health
02 Sep 99 | The Economy
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