From the TUC

New evidence that excessive working time damages your health

26 Jan 2012, by in Working Life

A new study published today reaffirmed the link between long working hours and depression.  As the evidence of serious health risks continues to pile up, why on earth do the Government and the CBI continue to oppose strengthening the Working Time Directive?

It seems to have become like an article of faith, making their stance difficult to shift with even the most rational argument.

As the dole queue rises, it certainly can’t be down to a shortage of workers.  It doesn’t seem right that 3 million employees – about 1 in 8 – should still work risky long hours while unemployment pushes two million – surely the UK can do better than that!

There is a wealth of research stretching back for decades showing links between excessive working time and heart disease, stress, depression and diabetes. That is why the EU brought forward the Working Time Directive in the first place.

The latest study adds to the case by confirming a link between working long hours of overtime and “predisposal” to major depressive episodes.

For those who like to see some of the numbers:

In prospective analysis of participants with no psychological morbidity at baseline, the odds ratio for a subsequent major depressive episode was 2.43 (95% confidence interval 1.11 to 5.30) times higher for those working 11+ hours a day compared to employees working 7–8 hours a day, when adjusted for socio-demographic factors at baseline. Further adjustment for chronic physical disease, smoking, alcohol use, job strain and work-related social support had little effect on this association (odds ratio 2.52; 95% confidence interval 1.12 to 5.65).”

Scientific caution rightly means that the authors stop short of saying that long hours increased the risk of contracting clinical depression by about x2.5 in this group of workers, as the causal link is a complex one. However, for those actually contracting heart disease, the difference between “predisposed” and “caused” might seem rather a fine one.

The particular value of this study of the health of UK civil servants is that it has a big sample (around 11,000) and it has been running for more than 20 years, making it one of the most reliable sources for studying working time and health.

…and earlier research from the same source found a worrying 60% increase in the risk of contracting heart disease amongst those working overtime.

There is obviously a serious risk here and yet the state and business leaders oppose taking action to protect people – simply scandalous!


The new study on depression, “Overtime Work as a Predictor of Major Depressive Episode: A 5-Year Follow-Up of the Whitehall II Study”, by Marianna Virtanen, Stephen A. Stansfeld, Rebecca Fuhrer, Jane E. Ferrie, Mika Kivimäki can be read here.

Read about the link between long hours and heart disease.