There is a lot of noise put out by mass media that perpetuates the idea that our work will fulfill us, and that we should chase this passion during all hours of the week. In particular, startup culture is guilty of procuring this mindset. But new research illustrates hustle doesn’t replace health.
A study published recently in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health reveals that working weekends and long hours can be associated with depression, regardless if a person actually likes their job and/or their compensation for it.
In the study, researchers analyzed data from a nationally representative sample of 23,403 adults in the United Kingdom between 2010 and 2012. The results demonstrated that women who work “extra-long hours “— 55 hours or more a week — are more depressed than their peers who worked between 35 and 40 hours a week. Working weekends, for both men and women, was associated with more depressive symptoms.
Most notably, regardless if the individuals were reasonably happy in their jobs, these depressive symptoms were present. The majority of people surveyed said they were satisfied with their jobs and incomes, but those identified as the ‘hustlers’ were significantly more likely to be depressed.
One theory from the study’s authors was these depressive effects could be correlated with the fact that people working weekends and long hours are engaged in work habits that are very different from most of the people they know. They suggest this is especially true for women who work extra-long hours.
“Potential pressures arising from working against social and labour-force norms might explain why there were elevated depressive symptoms among those women working extra-long hours and most/all weekends,” wrote the study’s authors. “Consistent with this suggestion are reports that it is usual in UK society for men to work longer hours and weekends; indeed in our sample, only 4% of women worked extra-long hours compared with three times as many men, and about 33% more men than women worked at weekends.”
The research team pulled these numbers from a massive data set called Understanding Society, the UK Household Longitudinal Study.
From the dataset, public health researchers gathered information on the working habits and mental health of UK adults. The study was comprised of data from 11,215 men and 12,188 women who were either self-employed or regularly employed.
Respondents in the survey didn’t explain why they were depressed, yet the comprehensive data allowed researchers to draw reasonable conclusions. In addition to the social norms theory, the gendered nature of their occupations where they’re spending long hours and weekend labor could explain the disparity between depressive symptoms in men and women:
- Women have been found to work longer hours in male-dominated occupations\
- Women working weekends tend to be concentrated in low-paid service sector jobs
“Such [low-paid service sector jobs], when combined with frequent or complex interactions with the public or clients, have been linked to higher levels of depression,” wrote the researchers of jobs that fall in the retail or restaurant industries.
Compounded by the fact that women shoulder a disproportionately large burden of household domestic work— an effect the US Bureau of Labor Statistics has also identified — it’s likely that long work hours and weekend work creates a double burden for women in the workforce to a more significant degree than they do for men.
“An investigation into the combined effects of domestic labour and work patterns was beyond the scope of this paper, but this could be an interesting avenue for future research,” wrote the study’s authors.
While the study didn’t offer insights into how we can narrow the gap in this gendered work disparity, it does provide more evidence that work has its limits on giving us purpose and meaning.
Sometimes, more work is not always a good thing, especially as it relates to our mental health.