Hard work never killed anybody, but why take a chance, former US President Ronald Reagan is reported to have said, in his characteristic humorous way.

But that just may be the case, as a recent report from the World Health Organization and the International Labour Organisation indicates that over 55 hours of work a week may well be injurious to your health. In fact, long work hours are said to be responsible for about one-third of the total estimated work-related burden of disease, making it the risk factor with the largest occupational disease burden.

Though this report has data from a pre-pandemic time, it found that long work hours had led to 745 000 deaths from stroke and ischemic heart disease in 2016, a 29 per cent increase since 2000. “Between 2000 and 2016, the number of deaths from heart disease due to working long hours increased by 42 per cent, and from stroke by 19 per cent.”

The global analysis is a first of its kind. Well before pandemic 2020 made “work from home” the norm across industries, where it was possible. In fact, anecdotal instances indicate that more people are having their workdays stretch well beyond normal work hours, taking over the time they may have normally travelled to work and back, breaks and all. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus points to how “teleworking” has blurred the boundaries between home and work. In fact, he adds, as businesses scale back or shut down operations to save money, people still on the payroll end up working longer hours. “No job is worth the risk of stroke or heart disease,” he says.

Doctors also point to the mental well-being of employees that come from simple office interactions and things like having a cuppa with a colleague. While this may still be a while away, the report suggests, flexible work hours, but with a cap on the maximum hours put in. A workable model benefiting both company and employee.