• Public health researchers have warned that regularly staying back at work can have serious long term effects. (AAP)
Public health researchers have warned that regularly staying back at work can have serious long term effects.
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SBS
18 Nov 2014 - 3:07 PM  UPDATED 19 Nov 2014 - 8:44 PM

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Longer working hours, stress, endless emails, and a sedentary lifestyle are all contributing to poorer physical and mental health in workers, researchers say.

The solution? Leave work on time.

Public-health researchers have warned that regularly staying back at work can have serious long term effects.

"Long working hours combined with work intensity are a known risk factor for poor health, especially cardiovascular disease, generally poor physical health, and fatigue,"  Head of Public Health at the University of Adelaide, Professor Dino Pisaniello, said.

Professor Pisaniello said the modern work environment often doesn't always lend itself to supporting good health.

Population studies have revealed that people who worked 10 hours or more a day, or 50 hours a week, were most at risk.

"Studies also show that one in five Australian working men has a 40 per cent increased cardiovascular disease risk. Up to 40 per cent of workers report that they work at very high speed for most of the time, work to tight deadlines for most of the time, and have too much work for one person to do," he said. 

"Around one quarter of Australian workers also report that work frequently interferes with their ability to engage in activities outside work, which means they suffer from a poor work-life balance."

Professor Pisaniello said this lifestyle generally affected workers in their late 30s and 40s, who had greater financial pressures.  

“People who feel that they have to support their families, they have a mortgage to pay, they want to make sure they got financial security at an early stage. Particularly the cost of living these days, they just need to work longer hours to make ends meet.”

The warnings come as part of 'Go Home on Time Day', held on Wednesday 19 November. Launched in 2009, the Australia Institute's annual initiative aimed to promote the importance of work-life balance. 

“Many Australians continue to struggle with the idea of saying no to last-minute meetings at the end of a working day, or turning their smartphone to silent when they get home, and numerous studies have shown that workers are more productive if they take scheduled breaks and annual leave,” Executive Director Dr Richard Denniss said.

According to the 2013 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Better Life Index, 14 per cent of Australians work “very long hours” – much more than the OECD average of nine per cent. Australia is also ranked fourth among 34 OECD countries for long hours worked. 

Overall, men spend more hours in paid work: in Australia 21 per cent of men work very long hours, compared with 6 per cent for women.

Spending more time with family, on hobbies, physical activity, lowering stress levels are just some of the benefits of leaving work on time, Professor Pisaniello said.

“An organisation where those psychosocial factors are taken into account, generally speaking, there are better outcomes, better productivity, less exposure to hazards. Those kinds of things are really important from a workplace perspective,” he said.

Workers should try and negotiate greater workplace flexibility with their managers and build a culture where work-life balance was encouraged.

Still, he conceded that not all managers or organisations would be receptive to that idea.

“Some managers may not be particularly receptive to that idea of changing rosters or flexibility. But there is legislation that does enable that to happen. Managers need to be aware that can and should happen.”

He added that flexibility wasn’t just valuable for workers, but boosted productivity and benefited companies in the long run.

“We work to live, rather than live to work. Giving people flexibility also does create the opportunity for creative people to think outside the square. I think that’s the kind of culture that some organisations are trying to generate anyway.

"In general, our recommendation is that workers take the opportunity to go home on time as much as possible to help reduce work stress and to achieve more life balance. This has the potential to make them healthier and ultimately more productive workers over the longer term," he said.

Wednesday 19 November is 'Go Home On Time Day'. 

Do you leave work on time? How do you achieve work-life balance? Comment below or tweet @SBSNews