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Concerns About Working Overtime May Be Misplaced

urs) face more risk, regardless of their job and demographic characteristics.

Moreover, working overtime did not increase the risk of physical or mental health problems. Overtime was also unrelated to "presenteeism"—days the employee was at work but performing at less than full capacity. Indeed, the larger picture showed that the number of work hours mattered much less in accounting for employee outcomes than factors whose origins preceded the number of hours worked: compensation type, demographics, and particularly prior diseases and health status.

Previous studies have suggested that long work hours directly affect the risk of health and safety problems—the more hours worked per week above 40, the greater the risk. In the European Union, a policy called the Working Time Directive limits average work hours to no more than 48 per week. Such policies may pose a challenge for private sector employers—especially those whose operations are structured in ways that are maximized when employees work overtime.

"Although work hours are a factor, they should be considered alongside previous health and other factors that comprise the larger context within which employee health, productivity and safety outcomes are determined," William B. Bunn III, MD, co-author, comments. "On both the research and policy fronts, more emphasis needs to be focused on prior health and other antecedents to the number of hours worked that better predict employee safety, lost productivity and future health."

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