The Im­pact Of Long Hours On Our Re­la­tion­ships


The pop­u­lar press is awash with sto­ries of the stressed ex­ec­u­tive burn­ing the mid­night oil. The poor soul is mar­ried to his job, and the in­cred­i­bly long hours put a tremen­dous strain on his re­la­tion­ship with both his spouse and chil­dren.

At least that’s the pop­u­lar per­cep­tion. Alas, a re­cent study found that there was, in fact, lit­tle cor­re­la­tion be­tween long hours in the of­fice and a de­cline in how happy we are in our re­la­tion­ships.

“Con­ven­tional wis­dom and re­search seem to sug­gest that part­ners in dual ca­reer-cou­ples have to de­cide whether they would rather risk their ca­reers or their ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ship. … Our re­search ques­tions the as­sump­tion that work­ing longer hours is haz­ardous for all ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ships,” the au­thors ex­plain.

Are you mar­ried to your job?

The study ex­am­ined the as­so­ci­a­tions we make be­tween the hours we work, the amount of time we spend at home and our sub­se­quent hap­pi­ness in our re­la­tion­ships.

It emerged that we tend to com­pen­sate for the time we lose with our part­ners by throw­ing our­selves into our work and en­sur­ing we make the most of the time we do spend in the of­fice.

It also says that those who do de­vote long hours to their work are all too aware of the trade-off they’re mak­ing with their per­sonal life and are con­scious that they can’t have ev­ery­thing.

So, in other words, there didn’t ap­pear to be any neg­a­tive as­so­ci­a­tion be­tween long hours and re­la­tion­ship sat­is­fac­tion, as peo­ple were gen­er­ally mak­ing a con­scious choice to put in long hours.

So is work­ing long hours OK?

Well no, I wouldn’t say that ex­actly. Let’s look at the most im­por­tant ques­tion first. Do peo­ple that put in long hours ac­tu­ally achieve more than their peers who work shorter shifts?

A re­cent study from re­searchers at Bos­ton Univer­sity says that’s doubt­ful. Man­agers in the study could not tell whether an em­ployee was ac­tu­ally putting in su­per long shifts or merely pre­tend­ing to do so. This was not only a sub­jec­tive thing, for the re­searchers could find no ev­i­dence that long hours had any im­pact on the amount of work done.

There are also very real health im­pli­ca­tions of work­ing long hours, in­clud­ing poorer sleep lev­els, signs of de­pres­sion and chances of heart prob­lems.

Th­ese things are ob­vi­ously bad when we look at them from an in­di­vid­ual per­spec­tive, but when you add them up across an or­ga­ni­za­tion the costs from ab­sen­teeism and high em­ployee turnover are con­sid­er­able.

There is also con­sid­er­able ev­i­dence to sug­gest that when we’re tired, our men­tal re­serves are de­pleted and we, there­fore, make ter­ri­ble, of­ten un­eth­i­cal de­ci­sions.

So why do peo­ple work long hours?

Well, there are a num­ber of pos­si­ble rea­sons. De­spite the ap­par­ent lack of jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for putting in long hours in terms of our pro­duc­tiv­ity, there is still ev­i­dence to sug­gest that pro­mo­tions and pay raises find their way to those ap­pear­ing de­voted by putting in marathon shifts.

There is also a pos­si­bil­ity that our work en­vi­ron­ment is less stress­ful than our home, with one study of work­ing moth­ers find­ing that those who worked full-time were ac­tu­ally health­ier than those who worked part-time.

The re­searchers rea­soned that the chal­lenge of jug­gling work and home life proved over­whelm­ing for the part-time em­ploy­ees, whereas their full-time peers were forced to make ar­range­ments for the man­age­ment of the home whilst they worked.

Of course, do­ing the odd long-shift when re­quired to fin­ish a cru­cial pro­ject is in­evitable, but the prob­lems build up when we make this a reg­u­lar oc­cur­rence.

Test­ing Your Ad­dic­tion To Work

If you’d like to test whether you fall into this worka­holic camp, you could try the fol­low­ing test, de­vel­oped by re­searchers from the Univer­sity of Ber­gen.

It re­quires that you an­swer the fol­low­ing ques­tions with: (1) Never, (2) Rarely, (3) Some­times, (4) Of­ten and (5) Al­ways:

• You think of how you can free up more time to work.

• You spend much more time work­ing than ini­tially in­tended.

• You work in or­der to re­duce feel­ings of guilt, anx­i­ety, help­less­ness and de­pres­sion.

• You have been told by oth­ers to cut down on work with­out lis­ten­ing to them.

• You be­come stressed if you are pro­hib­ited from work­ing.

• You repri­or­i­tize hob­bies, leisure ac­tiv­i­ties and ex­er­cise be­cause of your work.

• You work so much that it has neg­a­tively in­flu­enced your health.

If you an­swered “al­ways” or “of­ten” to at least four of th­ese ques­tions, then you may want to ques­tion your work­load. How did you score?


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