New health crisis lurching in the shadow of pandemic and work from home

New health crisis lurching in the shadow of pandemic and work from home

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought many newnesses to us. One of them is the standardization of work from home, which is resulting in a disbalance between professional and personal lives for many. While the work from home may have brought the opportunity of staying at home with the family and loved ones for a longer period, it has also opened Pandora’s Box with long working hours, which might bring a major health crisis in the near future.

Besides creating chaos around the world, the Covid-19 pandemic has also given birth to a lot of newness around us. The economy has been brought to its knees, the healthcare system has collapsed in many countries, our way of communicating with people around us has changed completely, a large number of companies in both the services and manufacturing sector have shifted their employees to work from home mode from longstanding traditional work from office mode. So far, it’s a new era.

For the larger part of the global workforce in the services industry, there has been a drastic change in the work pattern. Since laptops and smartphones have been invented, employees around the world have been forced or shown the way for longer working hours, which breaks the traditional 8 hours or 9-hour working pattern. The culture of work from home in the Covid-era has accelerated this trend even further. Many companies are forcing their employees to work for extended hours by putting huge work pressure on them. While only a minuscule part of the workforce is accepting this pattern happily, the majority is consenting to it reluctantly.

In some cases, it has been seen the people in the services and manufacturing sector are being forced to work for even 12-16 hours a day. This is a direct and gross violation of the Hours of Work (Industry) Convention, 1919, which took a resolution that the working hours of the employed persons shall not exceed 8 hours a day and 48 hours a week, with some exceptions. However, in some countries, the definition of long working hours depends on the respective national regulations. Although, many countries define their standard working hours as 35–40 hours per week and working more than 41 hours a week as overtime work.

Between 2000-2016, number of deaths from heart diseases due to long working hours increased by 42%, and from stroke by 19%.

~ WHO & ILO

Besides the long extended working hours, there is massive pressure of workloads, meeting deadlines, continuous virtual meetings. Not being able to communicate with people in person is another added pressure, that many don’t understand or accept despite being under that. The work from home is also bringing the pressure of balancing work-life and personal life at the same time, as the boundary between the two often gets mingled, as the dividing line is very thin, especially when someone is working from his or her home environment. This is actually pushing us to an even greater crisis that will impact many more people, who will survive the pandemic.

Long working hours led to the death of 745,000 people in 2016, registering a 29% increase since 2000.

~ WHO & ILO

According to an estimate by World Health Organization (WHO) and International Labour Organization (ILO), long working hours led to the death of 745,000 people in 2016, recording a 29% increase since 2000. The direct cause behind these deaths were strokes and ischemic heart diseases, but the deeper reason behind that was the long working hours.

More than 55 hours a week work resulted in 398,000 death from stroke and 347,000 from heart diseases in 2016.

~ WHO & ILO

According to the first-ever global analysis by WHO and ILO, on the loss of life and health associated with long working hours, 398,000 people died from a stroke and 347,000 from heart diseases in 2016, which were results of the victims having worked at least 55 hours a week. The number of deaths from heart diseases due to long working hours increased by 42%, and from stroke by 19%, between 2000 and 2016.

Work from home
Image: WHO & ILO

Are men more vulnerable?

The burden of work-related diseases is particularly significant in men. According to the findings, around 72% of such deaths occurred among males in 2016. Demographically, people living in the Western Pacific and South-East Asia regions, and middle-aged or older workers were the majority of victims of such diseases. Most of the deaths recorded due to the reason were among people aged between 60-79 years, who had worked for 55 hours or more than that per week between the ages of 45 and 74 years.

Working 55 hours or more per week results in 35% higher risk of stroke and 17% higher risk of death from ischemic heart diseases, compared to working 35-40 hours a week.

~ WHO & ILO

Long working hours is now known to be responsible for about one-third of the total estimated diseases that are caused by work-related burden. The research by WHO and ILO concludes that working 55 or more hours per week is associated with an estimated 35% higher risk of a stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from ischemic heart diseases, as compared to working 35-40 hours a week.

Currently, 9% of the total global population are working longer hours than the ideal limit.

~ WHO & ILO

According to Maria Neira, Director, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, at the WHO, working 55 hours or more than that per week is a serious health hazard. “It’s time that we all, governments, employers, and employees wake up to the fact that long working hours can lead to premature death,” Neira further emphasized.

Work from home

Covid-19 impact: Creating another health crisis

The study by WHO and ILO also states that the number of people who are working long hours is increasing rapidly, and currently 9% of the total global population are working longer hours than they should.  This ever-increasing trend is putting even more people at risk of work-related disability and early death.

The new analysis comes at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic impact is putting a spotlight on managing the working hours, especially for those who are working from home. The Covid-19 pandemic is accelerating developments that could feed the trend towards increased working hours for the global workforce, both in the services and manufacturing sector, as the pandemic has significantly changed the way many people work or used to work.

Work from home
Image: WHO & ILO

As Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO has said, teleworking or remote working has become the new norm in many industries, often blurring the boundaries between home and work. In addition to that, many businesses around the world have been forced to scale back or shut down operations to save money, and the employees who are still on these company’s payroll end up working longer hours. “No job is worth the risk of stroke or heart disease. Governments, employers and workers need to work together to agree on limits to protect the health of workers,” Ghebreyesus further added.

It is imperative that all the stakeholders come forward to ensure a better working environment. Otherwise, the Covid-19 may go after few years, but it will leave a dense footprint in every household and continue to take away lives for a prolonged period.

WHO-ILO’s suggestions for governments, employers and workers to protect workers’ health:   

  • The governments can introduce, implement and enforce laws, regulations and policies to ban mandatory overtime and ensure maximum working time limits.
  • A bipartite or collective bargaining agreements between the employers and employees’ associations can arrange for more flexible working time, while at the same time agreeing on a maximum number of working hours.
  • The employees could share their working hours mutually to ensure that the weekly working hours do not climb above 55 hours barrier.   

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