• Monday, February 26, 2024
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BusinessDay

Beyond ‘eight to five’: Are long hours of work bad for health?

Amaka turned a challenging situation into an opportunity for growth, advancement

The ticking hands of the clock and the massive late-night chaos of vehicular movement, mostly occasioned by people returning from their workplaces in the cosmopolitan city of Lagos, constantly reminds one of the realities that many 21st-century workplaces still operate stretched working hours, even late into the night.

Dating back 70 years ago to its colonial era through to its truncated status as the federal capital, Lagos was an organised metropolitan environment, in contrast to what it is today. Planning and managing the city back then was considerably simpler because it was much smaller. Its streets were well-kept and wooded, and crime was hardly ever an issue (Velasco, 2021).

Similar to this, Lagos was already a global cosmopolitan trade port with a lengthy history of economic growth and change prior to British acquisition. By the turn of the century, Lagos accounted for 12% of Nigeria’s GDP, and 60% of the country’s industrial and commercial activity (Olajide, 2021).

Despite the huge economic growth rate of Lagos state, as things stand, Lagos’ economic development has been unable to keep up with the exponential increase in the city’s population, which is currently estimated to be 35 million with a 6% to 8% urbanization rate (Velasco, 2021).

As aptly noted by Olaijde and Lawanson (2021) though megacities like Lagos offer wealth and employment opportunities, the city can also be hotbeds of poverty and exclusion. This may also not be divorceable from the generally ‘tight’ socio-economic conditions of the city all of which jointly threaten life, livelihood and health.

Beyond the fact that a cosmopolitan city like Lagos state is structured in the above socio-economic conditions, globalization also played a dominant force in shaping how a megacity like Lagos responds and adapts to these changes, particularly in the workforce.

This is reflected in the number of hours people used in their various workplaces. Overtime, long working hours is a common practice among working-class labourers, and they are often driven by the prospect of career progress and the need to get higher pay. To succinctly affirm the above viewpoint, efficiency wage theory holds that when workers are strongly connected to work, the number of hours worked is a significant indicator of workers’ effort and determinant of pay.

Within the African settings, the prevalence of long hours of work among organizations can be linked to absence of legal regulations to checkmate organizations which may also account for high generally low wages and other dimensions of employee exploitation.

However, little is known about the adverse health consequences of this phenomenon both for the employer and employees. Findings from a 2021 study jointly conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour organisation (see: https://www.who.int/news/item/17-05-2021-long-working-hours-increasing-deaths-from-heart-disease-and-stroke-who-ilo) revealed that long working hours led to 745 000 deaths from stroke and ischemic heart diseases in 2016, representing a 29 percent increase since year 2000.

In spite of these realities that should, ordinarily, discourage people from overwork, a combination of ‘pressure’ and ‘passion’ factors interact to make people defy the health problems due to overwork in a megacity like Lagos, Nigeria. Working longer hours can be detrimental to the general population’s health, with certain overtime being linked to high levels of stress and long-term health repercussions.

Similar to the WHO and ILO (2021), findings from earlier epidemiological studies (Petri, 2009; Wunder and Heineck, 2013; Aghion, Akcigit, Deaton, Roulet; 2016 and Winkelmann and Winkelmann, 1998) have consistently linked long working hours to increased risk of heart disease, stress, chronic fatigue, stroke, anxiety, poor sleep, psychoactive drugs intake, hypertension, and mental retardation.

Underpinning the above view, Ahn (2015) and Chu (2021) noted that long hours of work can cause myocardial infarction, injuries, poor physical health, inactivity, and depression. Corroborating the above view is a theory of Allostatic Load propounded by Bruce McEwen, an American neuroendocrinologist and Elliot Stellar, an American psychologist.

The theory posits that an individual experiencing ongoing long hours of stress first develops relatively minor health symptoms that eventually disturbs various physiological systems by triggering more serious health issues.

While it may be difficult to rid the 21st Century society of the reality of long work hours, there is a need to consider employees’ social and mental conditions in relation to their job engagement. As implied by Maslow’s theory of the “hierarchy of needs”, when workers’ physiological needs (food, shelter, sleep, rest, and clothes); safety needs (health security, emotional security, personal security, and financial security), social and belonging needs (family, workplace friendship and intimacy) and esteem needs (self-respect and respect from others) are met, they (workers) will tend to develop more positive inclination towards work.

Employee health and wellbeing is the bedrock on which every business is built. Organizations that have a healthy workplace and workers report higher employee retention, deliver higher performance, fewer employees sick leave and lower rates of burnout and turnover than organizations who do not prioritize their employee’s health.

Further mitigation of the aforementioned problems also could be in the form of weekly rest leave for employees, particularly working class whose job role involves operating heavy-duty equipment, and the encouragement of regular medical check-ups by workers. Additionally, payment of overtime, regular sensitization of workers on good work ethics and provision of beverages to workers whose roles involve operating heavy equipment will help in ameliorating problems associated with long hours of work.

Olaniyan is a research assistant at the Institute for Work and Family Integration (IWFI), Lagos, Nigeria. He can be reached on [email protected] OR +2348131993949