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Last Updated: Saturday, 30 December 2006, 00:25 GMT
'Excess work was damaging my health'
By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

Sam Smith and Dan Penny
Their relationship became strained

When Dan Penny and girlfriend Sam Smith decided to make a new life for themselves on the other side of the world they knew it would mean hard work.

Despite that they were determined to say goodbye to family and friends in the UK, pack up their lives and head off to New Zealand.

But while Sam gave up her job to get ready for the move, Dan had to work a seven day week to prepare the financial cushion they would need for their new life.

For more than four months he worked every possible hour in his IT job and said his health, relationship and happiness were put under strain.

Stress

"I had to work a seven day week so we could set ourselves up.

"But this left me no time to do anything else. I had no time to go to the gym or do any of the other things I used to do to relax.

He found he was getting really tired all the time and getting colds. He is not as fit and healthy as he used to be
Sam Smith

"I was suffering from increased headaches and was very tired, when I got home I would not be able to relax and would have to stay up until I could unwind.

"I was able to do this for the four months, but I could not have done it any longer."

Sam said the extra hours put increasing strain on their strong relationship.

"The hours he was working would vary from day to day, but he would not come home before 9-10pm at night.

"We became a lot snappier with each other.

"Things were not easy and I found myself getting angrier. I would find myself nagging him because he was at work, even though I knew he was doing it for a reason.

"He found he was getting really tired all the time and getting colds. He is not as fit and healthy as he used to be."

Risks

Dan and Sam's ordeal is now over and the couple have emigrated to start their new lives, but experts warn that for others the ordeal is not so short-term and could have long-term consequences.

A study by the At Home Society shows 12 million Britons are risking their relationships for work and that one in five relationships are on hold for the sake of climbing the career ladder.

In the last year the number of people putting in extra hours at work has risen from 8.6m to 9.5m - a third of all British workers.

More than four out of ten (41%) workers admit they put more time and effort into their relationships with colleagues than partners.

And 31% say they do more for colleagues than loved ones.

When you look at what they are doing in the hour after they should finish work there is often little being done
Dr Roger Henderson

Disturbingly, though, the survey reveals that for nearly half, the late hours are simply a 'showing face' exercise.

They do little more than shuffle paper and talk - but feel their boss expects the late hours as a sign of commitment.

Dr Roger Henderson, a GP in Shropshire, said he was seeing an increasing number of such cases.

"I think people feel obliged to be seen to be there at work.

"Partly because of peer pressure and partly because of pressure from work. But when you look at what they are doing in the hour after they should finish work there is often little being done."

Limits

Dr Henderson said an occasional late night was acceptable, but that it started taking its toll on health when it became more regular.

"I am seeing people increasingly with health effects such as stress and anxiety. People can feel depression."

And he said if employers found they regularly needed staff to do extra hours they should consider employing more people, operate flexible work schemes, or offer tele-working or job-sharing to improve the life/work balance.

He added that employees also had their part to play.

"Ensure when you are at home that you have quality time that is ring-fenced.

"Turn-off the phone, turn off the mobile and turn off the computer and if you have to work at home, have the quality time."


SEE ALSO
Work-life balancing act
26 Jul 04 |  The Westminster Hour
Milburn hails work-life balance
07 Apr 04 |  England
Staff 'opt for balance, not pay'
14 Jan 05 |  Business
'Bigger the better' for workers
10 Jan 06 |  Business

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