Are my long hours killing me?

Live to work

In the modern era many of us feel overworked and stressed out, trying to balance home life and often demanding jobs.

A century ago, Britons worked an average of around 3,000 hours per year – triple the figure today.

Nowadays people are living well into their seventies, and the retirement age might rise along with life expectancy. But are people simply working too hard, and what are the consequences?

Long hours culture

The Trade Union Congress (TUC) believe Britain's long hours culture is having a detrimental affect on productivity and health, as the number of people working more than 48 hours per week rises.

The industries most affected are mining and quarrying (64%), agriculture, fishing and forestry (43%), accommodation and food services (36%), health and social work (32%) and education (31%).

Working long hours is bad for your health and is associated with mental illness, depression, sleep deprivation, stress, a bad diet, raised blood pressure and an increased risk of heart disease.

But the idea that too much work can kill is nothing new – in Japan it's known as karōshi, meaning death from overwork.

Fishing is among the industries with the longest working hours

How does Britain compare?

Click or tap on each image to learn more about each country's working hours.

Stress in the workplace

The Health and Safety Executive has identified six factors that can cause work related stress if left unmanaged.

  1. Not being able to cope with the demands of the job.

  2. Not having a say about your work.

  3. Not getting enough information and support from colleagues and bosses.

  4. Not getting on with people at work.

  5. Changes to existing roles and responsibilities.

  6. Frequent changes within an organisation.

Studies have linked working long hours to stress, which is considered to be a state rather than an illness. However, if it becomes excessive, or over a long period of time, it can lead to both mental and physical illness.


The working time directive was introduced by the European Union to safeguard workers' rights, and was adopted by Britain in 1998. One of its aims was to set a weekly working time limit of 48 hours per person.

As Britain prepares to leave the EU, workers’ rights may be put under scrutiny, but deregulation in this area would be extremely unpopular among some sectors of the workforce.

Not all jobs are covered by EU employment law though. Some professions such as the emergency services, the military, night work and deep-sea fishing all fall outside of the directive due to the types of business and unsociable hours.

How might Britain's exit from the EU affect our working lives?

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