Are we working too much? Singaporeans at risk of developing health problems due to long hours

Are we working too much? Singaporeans at risk of developing health problems due to long hours
PHOTO: The Straits Times

The more hours you clock in at work, the more you stand to gain, right?

Not really.

You might want to re-evaluate spending long hours at work because doing so will increase your risk of developing a potentially life-threatening heart condition.

A study published in the European Heart Journal back in July this year revealed that people who worked 55 hours or more in a week were 40 per cent more likely to develop atrial fibrillation, compared to those who worked a regular week of 35 to 40 hours.

Professor Mika Kivimaki, director of the Whitehall II Study, from the Department of Epidemiology at University College London (UK), who led the research, said: "These findings show that long working hours are associated with an increased risk of atrial fibrillation, the most common cardiac arrhythmia."

Atrial fibrillation is characterised by rapid and irregular beating.

It can lead to stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications.

Did you know? Singaporeans work the longest hours in the world, with the average worker clocking in 2,371.2 hours in 2016.

Although someone with high blood pressure has almost twice the risk of stroke than someone without, a person with atrial fibrillation has more than five times the risk of stroke - which is the fourth leading cause of death in Singapore.

Did you know? Singaporeans work the longest hours in the world, with the average worker clocking in 2,371.2 hours in 2016.

The Working Hours Survey conducted last year by recruitment consultancy Morgan McKinley found that 70 per cent of professionals in Singapore work longer than their contracted hours.

6.5 out of 10 people "felt obliged to work longer than their contracted hours".

And 9 out of 10 work these extra hours for free as they aren't paid by their employer for working late.

Not only workers, bosses too

However, even employers aren't spared from health complications due to the workplace.

In fact, 72 per cent of employers in Singapore consider stress and mental health an issue affecting productivity, yet only 51 per cent have emotional and psychological wellness programmes in place, according to a recent study conducted by global professional services firm Aon.

And an alarming 38 per cent have no intention of implementing such programmes in the future.

Although the remaining statistic has plans to kick-start these programmes, the number is still six points lower than the APAC average.

Stress is a growing phenomenon in many Asian countries, and it is dubbed as the 'silent killer' by the United Nations International Labor Organisation (ILO).

Aon senior clinician, Dr Menandro Sandoval, said: "Through our analysis of client medical plan data, we are able to identify patterns.

"For instance, a high proportion of visits to General Practitioner clinics for Upper Respiratory Tract Infections (URTI) and various gastrointestinal illnesses are related to suppression of general resistance process, which can be attributed to mental health issues such as stress, depression, and anxiety."

"However, our recent study showed that Singapore employers now view their employees' health and well-being, both physical and mental, as a top three focus area."

Tim Dwyer, chief executive of Aon Health & Benefits, Asia Pacific

To be fair, the Aon APAC Benefits Strategy Study 2017 also found that an encouraging 74 per cent of Singapore employers have physical wellness programmes in place to help prevent the onset of these chronic issues.

Chief executive of Aon Health & Benefits, Asia Pacific, Tim Dwyer, said: "Employers in Asia have proactively implemented physical wellness programmes, but have been unwilling to promote mental health ones.

"However, our recent study showed that Singapore employers now view their employees' health and well-being, both physical and mental, as a top three focus area."

Though inevitable for some employees to work overtime, maybe it is time for Singaporeans to clock in more hours when it comes to activities that are outside the office - all for the sake of our own well-being.

ssandrea@sph.com.sg

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