UK Study Shows How Long Hours and Working Weekends Affect Mental Health

Women are disproportionately affected by the effects of long work weeks.

Mass media is full of the idea that work will fulfill us, and so we should chase our passion at all hours. But hustle can’t replace health. New research on adults who work weekends and long hours highlights this reality, showing the crucial point that people like the folks at Fiverr — and their inspirational business memes — are missing about the importance of living a balanced life.

A study published Monday in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health shows that working weekends and long hours can be associated with depression, even when a person actually likes their job and the amount of money they are paid for it.

In the paper, researchers analyzed data collected from a nationally representative sample of 23,403 adults in the United Kingdom over a period from 2010 to 2012. From these results, they concluded that women who work “extra-long hours “ — 55 hours or more a week — were more depressed than their peers who worked 35 to 40 hours a week. For both men and women, working weekends was associated with more depressive symptoms.

Notably, these depressive symptoms showed up even though most of the individuals were reasonably happy with their jobs: The majority of people surveyed said they were satisfied with their jobs and incomes, but the hustlers were significantly more likely to be depressed.

Working weekends and long hours is associated with a higher risk of depression, researchers found.

Unsplash / Victoria Heath

The study’s authors proposed that these depressive effects could have to do with the fact that people working weekends and long hours are engaged in work habits that are very different from those of most of the people they know. This effect, they argue, is especially true for women who work extra-long hours.

“Potential pressures arising from working against social and labour-force norms might explain why there were elevated depressive symptoms among those women working extra-long hours and most/all weekends,” write the study’s authors. “Consistent with this suggestion are reports that it is usual in UK society for men to work longer hours and weekends; indeed in our sample, only 4% of women worked extra-long hours compared with three times as many men, and about 33% more men than women worked at weekends.”

The team, led by Gill Weston, a Ph.D. student at university College London, drew these numbers from a huge dataset called Understanding Society, the UK Household Longitudinal Study.

From the dataset, public health researchers gathered information on the working habits and mental health of UK adults. For the purposes of the new study, Weston’s team looked at data from 11,215 men and 12,188 who were either self-employed or ordinarily employed.

And while survey respondents didn’t explain why they were depressed, the comprehensive data enabled the researchers to draw some reasonable conclusions. In addition to the social norms explanation, the gendered nature of long hours and weekend labor could explain the differences between depressive symptoms in men and women:

  • Women have been found to work longer hours in male-dominated occupations
  • Women working weekends tend to be concentrated in low-paid service sector jobs

“Such [low-paid service sector jobs], when combined with frequent or complex interactions with the public or clients, have been linked to higher levels of depression,” write the researchers of jobs that might be in retail or the restaurant industry.

Additionally, they explain that since the burden of domestic work falls disproportionately on women — an effect the US Bureau of Labor Statistics has also identified — it’s likely that long work hours and weekend work can create a double burden for women in the workforce to a greater degree than they do for men.

“An investigation into the combined effects of domestic labour and work patterns was beyond the scope of this paper, but this could be an interesting avenue for future research,” write the study’s authors.

And while these data don’t offer key insights into how societies can treat this gendered work disparity, they do provide yet another piece of evidence that suggests that even if work can give life some purpose and meaning, more labor is not always a good thing.

Background: Globalised and 24/7 business operations have fuelled demands for people to work long hours and weekends. Research on the mental health effects of these intensive temporal work patterns is sparse, contradictory or has not considered gender differences. Our objective was to examine the relationship between these work patterns and depressive symptoms in a large nationally representative sample of working men and women in the UK.
Method: The current study analysed data from Understanding Society, the UK Household Longitudinal Study, of 11 215 men and 12 188 women in employment or self-employment at the time of the study. Ordinary least squares regression models, adjusted for potential confounders and psychosocial work factors, were used to estimate depressive symptoms across categories of work hours and weekend work patterns.
Results: Relative to a standard 35–40 hours/week, working 55 hours/week or more related to more depressive symptoms among women (ß=0.75, 95% CI 0.12 to 1.39), but not for men (ß=0.24, 95% CI −0.10 to 0.58). Compared with not working weekends, working most or all weekends related to more depressive symptoms for both men (ß=0.34, 95% CI 0.08 to 0.61) and women (ß=0.50, 95% CI 0.20 to 0.79); however, working some weekends only related to more depressive symptoms for men (ß=0.33, 95% CI 0.11 to 0.55), not women (ß=0.17, 95% CI −0.09 to 0.42).
Conclusion: Increased depressive symptoms were independently linked to working extra-long hours for women, whereas increased depressive symptoms were associated with working weekends for both genders, suggesting these work patterns may contribute to worse mental health.
Related Tags