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Longer Work Hours Can Mean Less Productivity


A 2016 study released by the Melbourne Institute revealed that workers over the age of 40 had significantly higher productivity when their work week was reduced to three days. The research involved 3,500 women and 3,000 men. The University of Melbourne’s Institute for Applied Economics and Social Research observed the work habits of the group for analysis by using cognitive testing. Some of the exercises in the tests involved matching letters and numbers, reading a passage of text out loud and repeating lists backwards.

Additional considerations in the study were employment, family structure and overall quality of life and economic condition. On average, those who worked for 25 hours per week had the best performance. Cognition continued to improve until the 25-hour mark was reached, and then it began to go down because of increased levels of stress and tiredness.

The research also showed that increasing the number of hours worked had a positive impact on cognition until a certain number was reached, after which cognitive ability declined. This was true for both genders. As the working hours continued to go up, a negative affect was observed. An important point of the study was determining the exact threshold at which the cognitive changes took place. Cognition was measured by using the span of memory and cerebral dysfunction. Researchers observed that the cognition for women was optimal at 22 to 27 hours of weekly work. For men, it was 25 to 30 hours per week. When both genders worked beyond those thresholds, cognitive function was adversely affected.

Colin McKenzie, economics professor at Keio University, was a participant in the study and said that many countries are increasing the age of retirement in order to defer the eligibility for benefits and pensions. This will result in a larger number of people who will be forced to work well into their later years. While this will present opportunities for continued intellectual stimulation, the impact will greatly depend on the number of hours being worked. Engaging in work for longer hours presents both advantages and disadvantages. Work causes brain stimulation, but working for extended hours and doing specific kinds of tasks can result in increased stress levels and fatigue, both of which cause cognition to decrease.

McKenzie said there is an important difference between middle-aged workers and those who are elderly. Middle-aged people who work part time hours can maintain their current level of cognition, while older workers do better with fewer hours that are less tiring.

Geraint Johnes, Management School of Lancaster economics professor, said that cognition of workers was maintained or improved when they worked 25 hours per week. After that point, there was a decline. While the initial decline was not very significant, even at 35 hours per week, it became rapid and noticeable at the 40-hour point. This is why people should exercise caution in regard to the number of hours they work and the tasks they are doing. Both can cause adverse affects to both the body and the brain.

When a person works long hours and does not pay attention to their body, the following problems can occur:

-Fatigue and an inability to sleep. Being tired affects productivity, but a lack of sleep has an even larger impact on work performance and cognition.

-Anxiety and depression. Not meeting goals along with being overworked is stressful to mental health.

-Using alcohol and drugs. Turning to addictive substances in order to relax or sleep is common with people who are overworked. Both affect cognitive ability.

-Reduced productivity. This can occur even if working for longer hours.

-Burning eyes and physical pain. These are signals that a person is in need of rest.

-Deterioration of personal relationships. Connections to family and friends may become distant and damaged.

Scientific studies have proven time and again that people need a good balance between their work life and personal life to stay physically and mentally happy. Many companies and businesses have responded to this data by making modifications in the working hours of their employees based on age and gender. France made it illegal for employers to contact workers by email after work hours to help with this balance. In the end, people must be in tune with their bodies and cognition, and make the necessary adjustments.

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