How overworking can actually kill you

How overworking can actually kill you

In July of 2013, a Japanese journalist logged in 159 hours of overtime, only taking two days off from work in the month. She later died of heart failure due to overworking.  In July 2018, a prominent South African Cardiologist committed suicide after having suffered from depression for over two years. Death from overwork, a phenomenon is known as Karoshi in Japan has become increasingly common, not only in Japan but around the world.  Spending a lot of hours in the workplace without getting sufficient rest has become the cause of several health problems which in some cases have led to death. 


Employee wellness should be a top priority in organisations as overworking is becoming one of the leading causes of employee deaths.

How does overworking affect mental and physical health?

Overworking leads to burnout, which can cause different health problems. Individuals suffering from burnout may suffer from insomnia, increasing the risk of strokes. Mentally, the risks are depression, anxiety, and even suicide. In a study conducted by the Harvard medical school in 2015, People who worked 55 or more hours a week increased their risk of heart attack by 13%. They were also more likely to suffer a stroke, compared with those who worked 35-40 hours per week. According to another study by Brunner & Marmot (2006) to establish a correlation between stress at work and the metabolic syndrome, they found that employees with chronic work stress (three or more exposures) were more than twice as likely to have the syndrome than those without work stress. They concluded that stress at work is a risk factor for metabolic syndrome. The study provides evidence of the link between psychosocial stressors from everyday life and heart disease.


How employee burnout can affect your business

Employee burnout is not only a problem to the health of the employees, but also to the employer as the quality of work may be affected. When an employee is overworked and stressed, this may affect the quality of sleep they get, resulting in them coming in for work exhausted.  This may lead to detachment in their tasks and lack of accomplishment.  Other consequences include job-related mistakes, absenteeism and resignation from jobs.  The resignation becomes a problem for an employer when it comes to top-performing employees.  When a top-performing employee leaves an organisation the task becomes how to find a suitable replacement which may take up a considerable amount of time and eat up into company resources. 


Dealing with Burnout Effectively

Employees have a greater chance of suffering from burnout when they feel they are not making a recognisable contribution to the organisation, when they feel underappreciated & when they cannot handle the work overload.  Organisations can implement a psychological health and safety management system in the workplace to ensure employees have a way to deal with workplace stress.  This decreases the chances of chronic illnesses which may lead to sudden death or years of mental health problems.  A Psychologically sound workplace is a feasible solution in dealing with workplace stress and reducing the risk of employee deaths.


Lindah Mavengere is a Business Consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd, a business management and human resources consulting firm.


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Brunner EJ, Marmot MG. Social organisation, stress and health. In: Marmot MG, Wilkinson RG, eds. Social determinants of health. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006; 6-30.

Lindah Mavengere
This article was written by Lindah a Guest at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd

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