Long working hours and stress are leading to health problems, doctors warn
ABU DHABI // A culture of long working hours at some companies can cause workers to collapse from a build-up of stress, experts warn.
Hours spent sitting at desks could affect people’s physical and psychological health, they said.
“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, a clinical psychologist 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 time 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 can manifest themselves in various ways without regular preventive measures such as exercise, adequate sleep and a good support network, 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,” she said.
“Not only does being physically idle at the desk cause stress to the body, but psychological stress from work issues or family issues can lead to pain all over.”
Dr Sihweil believed it was in the interest of employers to ensure their staff were healthy.
She urged them to organise their business operations to enable their staff to “work smart” and be more productive while working fewer hours.
“Office managers and human resources directors ought to enact 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.”
According to Dr Justin Thomas, a psychology lecturer at Zayed University, research data shows that people are spending more time at work than 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 comes with all kinds of work, according to Dr K V Dinesh Babu, head of cardiology at Medeor 24x7 Hospital. And it is 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.
Dr Abou Bakr Mitkis, a cardiologist at Burjeel Hospital, said stress was a risk factor for cardiovascular complaints. It increased the odds of coronary artery disease, high blood pressure and a faster heart rate.
Malvika Varma, the hospital’s director of human resources, regarded stress as one of the biggest workplace health and safety issues.
She said employers should conduct regular surveys on employees’ levels of stress, and communicate with their staff regularly about their expectations and organisational changes.
“This will reduce stress caused by uncertainty,” she said. “Employers can also alleviate stress by organising fun, games, activities and downtime.”
Updated: September 11, 2016 04:00 AM