Long working hours affecting nation's sanity

By Jonathan Thompson
Sunday 05 January 2014 02:54

Britain's intense working culture is having a serious impact upon the nation's mental health, a new survey will reveal.

Compiled by the Mental Health Foundation, the report says that 61 per cent of employees were experiencing negative consequences in their personal life as a result of long working hours.

Within the last two years, the amount of people working more than 60 hours a week has risen from one in eight to one in six – the highest level in Europe. The number of women working these hours has more than doubled.

The impact of these working hours is charted in the report Whose Life is it Anyway?. In it, 48 per cent of respondents said they had sacrificed exercise in order to work longer hours, 45 per cent said they had lost time with their partner, with a further 42 per cent neglecting friends and social activities. Many reported feeling irritable, anxious or depressed as a result, with a number citing specific mental health problems – including attempted suicide – as a direct result of pressure at work.

Eleanor Thomson, 32, from Greenwich in south-east London experienced mental health problems related to her working life. Ms Thomson, a support worker for her local authority, left work for two months last year suffering from clinical depression and anxiety.

"Obviously, work wasn't the only cause of my illness, but it was definitely a contributing factor," said Ms Thomson, who is now working again but still on medication. "It was under-resourced, supervision was minimal, and I was working in an environment where I was seeing a lot of distress. Little things like not taking lunch breaks and trying to do too many jobs in a day took their toll. Looking back, I can see myself having gradually spiralled down."

Dr Andrew McCulloch, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, has supervised mental health policy at the Department of Health. Despite new legislation to ensure a better work-life balance, he says, the Government must urgently address the issue in broader terms.

"The Government needs to be more efficient," he said. "There is a strong business case because this kind of industrial culture is not sustainable. It's already reached crisis proportions, and if it goes on, we are likely to see the sectors with the most stress simply starting to melt down."

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