We’re in the fourth year of the global economic downturn and the number of hours American employees are working is on the rise. In fact, over the past several decades, we have surpassed Japan and many countries in Western Europe in the average number of hours worked annually. This, of course, is understandable as companies’ need to squeeze every last dollar of profit that they can to ensure their survival.
But at what point does running a lean operation start to reduce profit? Is there a threshold where running a skeleton staff and asking them to work long hours begin to provide diminishing returns? After four years, are overworked employees now costing you money rather than contributing to the bottom line?
NIOSH Study: Overtime and Extended Work Shifts Affect Employee Health & Wellness
NIOSH performed an integrative review of 52 recently published research reports examining the effect of long working hours on job performance, injuries, and illness among workers.
In brief, the study reported:
“A pattern of deteriorating performance on psychophysiological tests as well as injuries while working long hours was observed across study findings, particularly with very long shifts and when 12-hour shifts combined with more than 40 hours of work a week. Four studies that focused on effects during extended shifts reported that the 9th to 12th hours of work were associated with feelings of decreased alertness and increased fatigue, lower cognitive function, declines in vigilance on task measures, and increased injuries.”
A study reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine determined that employees who work 11 hours per day increase their risk of heart disease by 67 percent. Director of NIOSH, John Howard, M.D., reported on several studies conducted between 1996 and 2001 among Japanese and South Korean workers that showed an increase in hypertension and weight gain due to working long hours. We’ve known for several decades that limiting hours for transportation sector workers results in fewer accidents on our highways.
Even Henry Ford realized nearly a century ago that he could obtain optimum productivity and lower production costs by limiting his workers to 8 hour days and a 40-hour work week.
Working long hours and overtime are part of the fabric of our society. In the short term, it allows companies to spearhead new initiatives, take on new customers, maintain machinery and equipment, or weather an economic downturn. In the long term however, it may not only have a detrimental effect on employee health and safety, but also on the bottom line.