Israelis are working too many hours, sleeping too little, eating irregularly, and consuming too much junk food, thereby significantly raising their risk of chronic diseases, according to the National Insurance Institute’s Israel Institute for Safety and Hygiene (IIOSH). It gave advice on the right way to balance work and one’s personal life and avoid a rise in occupational morbidity.
Overly long work hours, sleep disturbances, smoking, and an unhealthful diet are likely to raise the incidence of cardiovascular disease, the IIOSH said. According to its latest survey, 56.3% of Israeli men and 29.5% of women work longer than the standard 42 hours a week. In fact, 18.5% of men and 6.3% of women work more than 50 hours weekly, it said.
As a result, Israel is among the five countries with the most hours worked, said Dr. Miki Winkler, the director-general of IOOSH.
The survey found that employees who work more than 50 hours weekly and smoke tobacco light up 50% more than those who work fewer hours, and they had more difficulty breathing.
Long working hours affect not only the employees themselves but also their families and their employers, Winkler said. Long working hours cause negative short-term and long-term effects, leading to increased stress and negative mental effects, such as fatigue, sleep disturbances, changes in lifestyle habits, irregular diet, smoking, and alcohol consumption, he said.
In the long term, excessive working hours can lead not only to a higher risk of heart attacks and stroke but also to gastrointestinal disorders and more chronic diseases. Working more than 48 hours a week also reduces safety in the workplace and leads to a greater risk of accidents caused by fatigue and lack of concentration, the study said.
The survey examined the records of 3,354 workers from all sectors in Israel, focusing on burnout at work and illnesses caused by long working hours and shift work.
“Maintaining proper working hours should be a top priority for employers,” Winkler stressed. “An improvement in the balance of work hours can affect organizational productivity, employee health, and a reduction in work accidents at the site. I call on employers to use the IIOSH guidelines to improve the health of their workers. Maintaining balanced work hours raises efficiency, cuts absenteeism and employee turnover, increases morale, and improves workers’ attitudes toward their employers.”
Among the institute’s suggestions are:
- Maintain desirable working hours: Excessive working hours should not be used as a means of increasing the employer’s profitability. Balancing working hours and employees’ personal lives is not only the “right thing” to do, but it can also be used as a strategy to improve productivity and benefit the employee.
Adequate working hours are meant to provide employees with the time and flexibility they need in their personal and family lives, in accordance with the principle established at the International Labor Organization Conference of 1981.
- Gender equality: Gender segregation in the labor market continues in almost all countries, and women still do most of the housework and family care. These situations serve as fuel for gender segregation in employment by creating barriers for people with children to enter the labor market and advance. To promote gender equality, the establishment of work-time policies must therefore allow women to be equal to men in employment (level of roles, career advancement, etc.) and allow both partners in the family unit to combine paid work with lifelong family responsibilities.
- The choice of working times by the employee: The requirement for around-the-clock availability and at short notice are the main causes of inconvenience and disruption in the personal lives of employees. The possibility for employees to influence their work time means an opportunity for them to plan their work vis-à-vis their personal lives.
This can be promoted by providing several alternatives of working time so that employees can choose the one that suits them and allowing employees to decide the length and arrangement of working hours. The employee should be allowed to arrange working hours by himself/herself by spacing the work on certain days, on the one hand, and compressing it on other days.
The IIOSH is a statutory, nonprofit corporation established in 1954 to promote a culture of work safety and occupational hygiene in industry, service, commerce, construction, and agriculture. This can be achieved, among other things, through research, risk diagnosis, managers’ training, the National Center for Simulators, the National Lifeline Center, training, advocacy, information, surveys, and monitoring.
The IIOSH does not supervise or enforce laws, which is the job of the regulator – the Economy and Industry Ministry’s labor branch, Winkler said, adding that there is a clear distinction between enforcement, prevention, advocacy, and research.