Are Longer Hours Hindering Your Ability to Work?

Long hours at work are typical of doctors: there is no break in people getting sick or having physical issues. But what does working long hours do physically and mentally to doctors, and how can this affect your practice? The term “overwork” refers to the increasing risk that a worker will experience symptoms of fatigue and work stress, which can undermine productivity rates. We’re going to be taking a look at some of the statistics involved with professionals working long hours and then discuss how this can not only hinder productivity in your practice, but can also affect your body and, in some cases, how soon you need to file a disability insurance claim.

Longer Hours

There numbers regarding the average work week for Americans, especially professionals such as doctors, show that most people expect to work extended hours. This is associated with the trend of “presenteeism” among doctors and dentists, which we have spent some time dissecting. In fact, many professionals now view the traditional 40-hour work week as a “part-time” job, and state that working those hours show laziness or a lack of desire to get ahead.

  • In 2006, American families worked an average of 11 hours more per week than they did in 1979.
  • 85.8% of males and 66.5% of women are working 40 or more hours per week. ((See American Average Work Hours at 20Something Finance))
  • 37.9% of professional men worked over 50 hours a week between 2006 and 2008, which is an increase from 34%.
  • The number of professional women working over 50 hours increased even more drastically, from 6.1% to 14.4% in the same time period. ((See Top-Level Professionals View 40-Hour Work Week as Part-Time at The Huffington Post))
  • 52% of top income earners in America report working “extreme jobs,” which are those that require more than 60 hours a week. ((See Success Comes at a Steeper Price at ABC News))

Effects of Overwork ((See The Effects of Working Time on Productivity and Firm Performance))

Studies have shown that working longer hours leads to a decrease in productivity per hour. Any doctor that has worked more than 10 hours a day, as they often do, can attest that the 9th hour is much more difficult to get through than the first. The evidence shows that longer working hours have a negative effect on worker health due to fatigue and work stress, all of which further decrease labor productivity.

Workers with long hours are at a greater risk of health issues. For instance, those who perform repetitive tasks have an even greater chance of cumulative trauma disorder, such as carpal tunnel syndrome. This shouldn’t be shocking to medical professionals, as many of the disabilities that they suffer come from repetitive use injuries. An interesting way to think of the way your hours affect your work is to think of your body using a minimum amount of energy for posture and immunity, which has a great effect on back and neck pain. If you draw too much on this energy for work, your posture and immunity will suffer.

As another example, working extended hours can have a negative effect on mental health. We have also discussed how medical professionals are more susceptible to mental illness. Studies have shown that working long hours leads to increased stress, which can contribute to the already stressful situations doctors face every day.

What Does This Mean for You?

One positive finding regarding hours worked and productivity is that those who have the flexibility to schedule their own hours are not only happier but more productive. Even more striking is the fact that even if workers had to put in overtime, if they chose this overtime themselves instead of being asked to do it by a supervisor, they were much more productive and less fatigued.

This is certainly good news for those medical professionals that own their own business and are able to schedule their time as they see fit. However, doctors such as residents or those working within another professional’s practice may feel pressured to take on more hours, and are also constrained by other doctors’ schedules. For these reasons, it’s important for the medical and dental community as a whole to take a better approach regarding long hours. While we certainly don’t presume to know what is most appropriate in terms of streamlining care and administration, it certainly seems logical that doctors be encouraged to work fewer hours or have more freedom in scheduling the hours that they are going to work.

Let us know what you think about working long hours and whether you have schedule flexibility in the comments!

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