Health effects under COVID: The novel coronavirus pandemic led to a widespread change in the working condition. Working from home was no more a luxury but a necessity for companies to keep their operations working well within the frame to survive and tide over these troubled times. The work from home culture is a double-edged sword. While on the one hand it allows people to work from their comfort space, near their family members and allows them the proximity to their loved ones, on the other hand, it has increased the work pressure to insurmountable levels, leading to health complications, both mental and physical. Long hours, increased screen time and the unsuccessful chore of juggling between home and work have taken many tolls. While a lot has been done and said to improve mental and physical health during this time, the blurring lines between work and home has a noticeable impact on the global workforce.
How working for prolonged hours affects the biological clock? Explains Dr Saurabh Chawla (Clinician, Docterz.com)
- To begin with, let us understand what a Biological clock is? It is are organisms’ natural timing devices, regulating the cycle of circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms natural processes that respond primarily to light and darkness. Night shift working, excessive use of mobile devices at night, and prolonged working hours are some of the main contributors affecting the human body's biological clock. With the COVID pandemic being prevalent since last year, almost all of us have been holed up in our homes. On the other side, individuals working with essential services are overburdened, negatively affecting their health.
- These overworked individuals have an increased risk of heart ailments, such as cardiovascular diseases and ischaemic strokes. Emotional stress, poor dietary habits, and lack of activity are further contributors to the same. Metabolic health is severely affected by these individuals. Sleep deficiency is known to cause excessive sleepiness during day time, mood disorders, and anxiety. Overworked schedules tend to have GI dysfunction, which presents as excessive flatulence or abnormal bowel movements. There are increased chances of altered cellular metabolism, DNA damage, and reduced tumour suppression, leading to cancer risk. A flawed immune system further adds to one's woes by manifesting recurrent boils on skin and body aches.
Dr Malini Saba (Psychologist) shares some of the most alarming effects of these long working hours
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to increased mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression of employees working from home. Long working hours are known to harm the health of employees, both mentally and physically.
Mental Health Impacts
- Self-Doubt and underconfidence: With days rolling into nights and weekdays rolling into weekends, there is no clear demarcation between what enough is and what isn’t. Due to the precarious situation and careers hanging by a thread, many employees push themselves to work harder and better than yesterday. While in a competitive spirit, it is a good thing; this overstepping the work boundary is caused by the need to prove oneself. Many believe that they are not doing enough and end up spending more hours in front of their screens, ignoring their health and well-being to demonstrate their professional mettle. Anxiety, depression and feeling of worthlessness are widespread in such situations.
- The Fear of Loss: The pandemic has shut many sectors, with many jobs lost and households uprooted. Unfortunately, many organizations have played this card to push their employees to work harder, forcing them to put in extra hours under the pretext that they might lose their jobs. This leads to long hours of back-breaking work in front of the screen that leads to sleep deprivation and lethargy. The fear of employment loss has had many falls in the bouts of hypertension and depression, yet another psychological issue has become more prevalent, thanks to the pandemic.
- Anxiety: Working from home led to an expansion in responsibilities. Juggling between office work, impromptu meetings, housework and kids, managing all the tasks simultaneously has led to severe anxiety. The commitment to keep things in order without ample rest is one of the primary reasons for this unduly stress. Long working hours and catching up with extra work has drained most people out, who often find themselves listless at the end of the day.
- Loss of Energy: Exercising and moving leads to the release of oxytocin and endorphins that regulate mood and temperament. Not engaging in physical exercise leaves one lethargic and sluggish that directly impacts the weight and the muscles. Sitting for extended ampere-hours in one place also results in stiffness and aches across the body, especially the joints that can profoundly impact our natural lifecycle.
- Increased Weight Gain: Sitting for long hours in front of the screen is not what the human body is meant to do. This lack of movement and exercise leads to weight gain and bone damage, making them brittle and susceptible to injury at the slightest impact.
Life Coach & Psychologist Gurpreet Singh Arora (FOUNDER-THE CENTER OF HEALING) shares the adverse effects of long working hours on employees
During COVID-19 lockdowns, employees working from their living rooms or home offices have seen the length of their working days increase. They were juggling with more responsibilities and dealing with the burden in sometimes unhealthy ways. In employee engagement, satisfaction and productivity, this inevitably leads to a decrease. The approaching significant worldwide downturn and its inevitable threat to employment across various sectors can result in employees working extended hours to establish themselves as indispensable and secure their long-term future.
- Increased Fatigue- When you work for hours over a long period, fatigue sets in. Symptoms of fatigue for working too long include sleepiness, weariness, low concentration, irritability and increased susceptibility to illness. These can be a significant hindrance to productivity. Fatigue increases and becomes overwhelming if you don’t rest.
- Ergonomic Hazards- Depending on where you work, prolonged work hours can expose you to severe ergonomic hazards like chemicals, radiation, vibration, noise, and extreme temperatures. Ergonomic hazards exposure can have profound health implications.
- Reduced Productivity- Long working hours are counterproductive, which means if employees work consistently for long hours, they fall behind in their duties. The longer hours are probably decreasing your productivity.
- Musculoskeletal Damage- Prolong working of employee’s increases the risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) that damage the body’s muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons and nerves.
- More Stress- When you work long hours, you are doing it at the expense of your family and close friends and your diet, exercise routine, and sanity, which results in stress and anxiety.
- Neglected Social Life- Extended working hours at home also reduce your work quality by conflicting quality of your life and time for family and other responsibilities other than work.
- Heart Attack And Brain Damage- The risk of heart attack and brain damage also increases for employees who work prolonged hours than those working for standard hours.
Meditation, 30 minutes of daily exercise, indulging in a non-work-related activity or spending time with loved ones is just as important as work and bringing the money home. Workers must invest in their mental and physical health, especially during these tiring times. One should maintain a work health balance and look forward to having a long and healthy work-life rather than having a short overworked professional career.
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