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Long work hours and your health

Hong Kong holds a multitude of ‘number ones’, many of which people in the city take pride in. Reports on working hours and work-life balance also tend to award the city number one for the most overworked cities. That being said, Hong Kong dropped to second place in 2022 – ranking after Dubai and before Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. 

To be honest, Hong Long’s frenetic work culture is not really news for those of us who have lived and worked in the city. After all, most people in Hong Kong work 6 days a week – not to mention the fact that many in the city also need to work longer hours in order to be able to afford to pay their rents. 

As there is an increasing amount of data pointing to the fact that long working hours could be having a negative impact on your health, this Pacific Prime Hong Kong article looks at some of the most common health related effects overwork can have.

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1. You get less sleep

Many expats who move to Hong Kong often comment on the pace of life in the city. It feels like there is always something going on, and people are out and about at all hours. After all, many stores and restaurants are open until 11:00 pm or later, and there are always bars open somewhere.

These long hours at work staring at computer screens, combined with long nights out can have an impact on your sleep. In fact, close to 70% of Hong Kong residents have trouble sleeping according to a telephone survey conducted last year by the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Wing Yun-Kwok, a professor and director of the university’s Sleep Assessment Unit, said:

“Hong Kongers tend to sleep very late, mostly after 12 a.m. or 1 a.m., but wake up very early in the morning. That’s why Hong Kongers have a relatively short sleep duration compared to people from other parts of Asia.” 

According to WebMD, there are both short and long term negative effects that sleep deprivation can have on your health, and it can also put you at risk of developing serious conditions including:

    • Heart diseases (more on that below)
    • High blood pressure
    • Stroke
    • Diabetes

Not to mention the fact that sleep deprivation impairs our ability to concentrate, which could lead to increased risk of accidents at work and decreased productivity.

2. You are putting your heart at risk

Getting less sleep because we are working long hours, combined with the fact that many of us are sitting all day lead to an increasingly sedentary life. This puts us at an increased risk of heart diseases including:

  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Angina
  • Coronary heart disease (CHD)

While there are many factors that can lead to heart disease, a number of studies have found correlation between heart disease and increased/longer work hours. One study looked at the results of 22,500 people and their working hours and the prevalence of coronary heart disease. It found that there is an “approximately 40% excess risk of CHD in employees working long hours”. In other words, according to this study, people who work long hours are 40% more likely to develop CHD than those who work normal hours.  

3. You could be drinking more

Q. What’s the fastest thing in Hong Kong?

A. An expat trying to get to happy hour.

All joking aside, it is fairly common to see people get off work and head straight to the bar, or have a few drinks with dinner. The health benefits of consuming alcohol are constantly being debated, but heavy drinking is almost universally seen as being damaging to one’s health. As for the connection with long working hours, one 2021 study found that people who work longer hours may have increased their alcohol consumption – though the effects on risky drinking are uncertain. 

According to the CDC, there are a number of long-term health issues that can stem from, or be exacerbated by, heavy drinking. These include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Liver disease
  • Digestive problems
  • Cancer
  • Learning and memory problems
  • Mental health problems including depression and anxiety
  • Alcohol dependence, or alcoholism.

In addition, you could also see a decrease in productivity at work if you are constantly dealing with hangovers or the medical conditions related to heavy drinking.

4. You could be stressed

Sure, it would be great to say that our work is not stressful, but for many in the city, this is simply not true. Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace 2022 Report, which surveyed an average of 1,000 individuals in each country or area, found that employees in Hong Kong feel the most stress, worry, anger, and sadness in East Asia. Earlier this year, Hong Kong also topped Mercer’s ranking of the most expensive cities in the world, which adds to employees’ financial stress and worries. 

High stress can have a negative impact on not only your life, but also your health. Some negative health effects include:

  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Chest pain
  • Tiredness
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Upset stomach
  • Sleep problems

Beyond physical symptoms, stress is well known to have a detrimental effect on your mental health. Some common effects include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of motivation
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Irritability

5. You could be gaining weight

Because many of us sit at computers all day, we are therefore not moving and probably not getting exercise. Combine this with the fact that many people in Hong Kong prefer to eat out rather than cook at home and the increased chances of drinking more alcohol, and it is not uncommon to see people gaining weight, especially if they work longer hours.

Being overweight can have a major impact on your health including increased risk of:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Sleep apnea
  • Some cancers

As you can probably guess, working long hours could have a negative impact on your health, but it can also have an impact at work as well. You may notice that you are having trouble concentrating, having to drink more caffeinated beverages, are more irritable, and more. This can also be a major problem for companies as you can bet that productivity will not be maximized if your employees work long hours.

Get in touch with Pacific Prime Hong today!

That is why it is important for all companies to have a wellness plan that not only addresses long hours, but offers employees and individuals a way to ensure they remain healthy. One of the most important aspects of this will be a health insurance plan that covers any potential care required for care resulting from overworking.

As a global health insurance brokerage and employee benefits specialist, Pacific Prime Hong Kong helps companies of all sizes and industries design, administer, and optimize tailored employee benefits in Hong Kong, as well as business insurance in the city-state. To learn more about what we can do for you, please arrange a free consultation with our corporate team today!

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Content Strategist at Pacific Prime Hong Kong
Jessica Lindeman is a Content Strategist at Pacific Prime. She comes to work every day living and breathing the motto of "simplifying insurance", and injects her unbridled enthusiasm for health and insurance related topics into every article and piece of content she creates for Pacific Prime.

When she's not typing away on her keyboard, she's reading poetry, fueling her insatiable wanderlust, getting her coffee fix, and perpetually browsing animal Instagram accounts.
Jess Lindeman