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?