Health effects of an 8-hour work schedule

An 8-hour work schedule has been with us since the 20th century. The work practice began in October 1940 when 8 hours per day of work or 40 hours per week became the standard practice in industries in the United States. But even before the 20th century, sometime in 1869, US President Ulysses Grant issued a proclamation that guaranteed a stable wage and an eight-hour workday for government workers. Grant’s decision led private-sector workers to push for the same rights.

But on May 1, 1886, a national strike was called by labor organizations in America advocating for a shorter workday. As early as the 19th century, therefore, workers were already aware that an 8-hour work schedule per day was somehow detrimental to their physical and social well-being. Research suggested that working for a full 8 hours per day could lead towards lesser productivity for the government or private worker.

In the modern 21st century setting, people still work for 8 hours per day, some even going beyond this number. The sedentary nature of work in modern offices has led to increased numbers of people becoming overweight and obese. This condition further leads to the onset of high-risk physical disorders like heart disease and therefore affects the performance of the employee or worker.

More than 1.9 billion adults 18 years or older were overweight in 2016. Of the total, 650 million were obese. As a result, higher populations are at risk since overweight and obesity kills more people than underweight according to the World Health Organization.

Some private companies developed a flexible schedule where employees can check in the office for four to six hours and spend the balance of two hours either at home or in a field assignment. Since working straight for 8 hours in a sedentary mode does not bode well for employees, some companies have shortened the number of hours that an employee must spend in the office, provided all the outputs required by the office for the day are completed.

The BMJ Journals on Occupational and Environmental Medicine cited a summary of health effects of shift work, those assigned on an 8-hour schedule at different times of the day or night. The outcomes included: Reduction in quality and quantity of sleep and pervasive complaints of “fatigue.” Workers have also shown signs of anxiety, depression, and increased neuroticism.

Because of the sedentary nature of work, there is increasing evidence of adverse cardiovascular effects especially for overweight and obese workers. Another side health effect is the increase in gastrointestinal disorders.

Increasing urbanization has led to a decrease in physical activity, especially in the workplace. Also, most of the work done is sedentary, and walking has become secondary due to changing transport modes. Along with high food intake, all these have caused obesity and added health problems to individuals in the workplace.

Not only will the work performance of a worker or employee be adversely affected in a straight 8-hour work period, but once the health of an employee is placed at high risk due to an illness, this situation could also compromise the ability of the company to deliver its products or services.

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