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Burnout at work

A short overtime sprint won’t kill you but, as data from World War One shows, consistently putting in too many hours at work hurts employees and employers.

A recent BBC report described esearch on working hours that suggests overwork leads to being less productive, not more. It is also associated with increases in cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other negative health effects, all of which can take a toll on work-related output.

In 1915, the British government established the Health of Munition Workers Committee (HMWC) to monitor working conditions and advise on matters such as working hours. The committee managed to collect a rich set of data that can tell us a lot about what happens when people work long hours.

The 2015 analysis of this data showed that as hours worked increased, output also increased, but only to a point. Output per hour peaked at about 40 hours of work per week and then fell, despite the extreme national importance of the work being performed.

One-hundred years on, the results of overwork don’t seem to be all that different for knowledge workers. Working too many hours backfires for both employers and employees, whether you measure by decreased outputs, lack of creativity, a drop in quality or poorer interpersonal skills.

More at the BBC Worklife website.

World War One munition factory making shells women weighing steel shells and testing their hardness April 1918 (BBC)

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