Long working hours and stress are leading to health problems, doctors warn

ABU DHABI // A culture of long working hours can cause some people to work until they drop, experts have warned. Hours spent sitting at desks can affect people’s physical and psychological health, they say. “The typical workplace scenario demands that people are sitting at their desks, often in front of computers, for very long […]

ABU DHABI // A culture of long working hours can cause some people to work until they drop, experts have warned.

Hours spent sitting at desks can affect people’s physical and psychological health, they say.

“The typical workplace scenario demands that people are sitting at their desks, often in front of computers, for very long stretches of time,” said Dr Deema Sihweil, clinical director at the psychology centre at the Carbone Clinic. “Tight deadlines, job insecurity or social-political issues at the workplace also contribute to stress build-up.

“Long working hours without enough break times to attend to other life matters, strict office policies and workplace inflexibility are known to have a significant negative impact on physical and psychological health.”

Even low levels of stress, if not managed regularly through preventative measures such as exercise, adequate sleep and a good support network, can reveal themselves in various ways, according to Dr Sihweil.

“Headaches, digestive problems, joint pain, irritable bowel syndrome and most especially muscle tension around the body are common manifestations of stress, not to mention the cognitive distress we experience,” the doctor said.

“Not only does being physically idle at the desk cause stress on the body but psychological stress from work issues, or family issues can lead to pain all over.”

Dr Sihweil believes it is in the interest of employers to ensure their workers are healthy, and urged them to organise their operation so that staff “work smart” and are more productive while working fewer hours.

“Office managers and human resources directors ought to implement stress-management protocols to prevent people from developing stress-related injuries, which can ultimately lead to poor workplace performance,” she said. “Giving people flexible time to attend doctors’ appointments, promoting family gatherings, encouraging wellness and exercise programmes and permitting flexible working hours are some ways of preventing and reducing the amount of stress that people endure.

“Preventative strategies are far more effective than waiting for severe injuries to occur.”

According to Dr Justin Thomas, a pathology lecturer at Zayed University, data backs up the feeling that people are spending more time at work than ever before.

“In addition to more hours at work, work now follows us home and we might obsess over emails while our children try to coax us into playing with them,” he said. “Overwork for the wrong reasons in a toxic work environment can kill.

“It sounds dramatic but it is true: heart disease, road traffic accidents and suicide are among the leading causes of death in some nations; very often stress at work is an exacerbating factor if not the root cause of such problems.

“We work to live, and sometimes work kills us.”

Stress is, according to Dr K V Dinesh Babu, a consultant in cardiology and head of the department of cardiology at Medeor 24×7 Hospital, a by-product of all professions, exacerbated by longer working hours. “If you are spending 12 to 14 hours at work, then not only do you miss out on leisure activities but also feel too tired to prepare fresh food when you return home,” he said.

Stress is a known risk factor for cardiovascular complaints, said Dr Abou Bakr Mitkis, a consultant in cardiology at Burjeel Marina Health Promotion Centre in Abu Dhabi, increasing the chances of coronary artery disease, rising blood pressure and a faster heart rate.

Malvika Varma, director of human resources at Burjeel Hospital, sees stress as one of the biggest workplace health and safety issues.

She feels employers should conduct regular surveys to determine levels of employee stress, and communicate with their workers regularly about their expectations and organisational changes, to ensure transparency and clarity.

“This will reduce stress caused by uncertainty,” she said. “Employers can also alleviate stress by organising fun, games, activities and downtime.”

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Source: uae news

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