In the Confucian classic The Golden Mean, it is said that “the mandate of heaven is called nature; to follow nature is called the Dao”. In ancient China, farmers got up to work at sunrise and retired at sunset; they also took a rest during rainy days, reading poetry and literature.
In modern times, we are often impatient and frustrated by our busy and stressful working lives. We work till late and even on weekends. But prolonged working hours do not comply with the laws of nature, and can even lead to poor health.
A study published in the medical journal Lancet revealed that people who worked long hours had a higher risk of stroke. Compared to a 35-40 hour work week, those who worked up to 48 hours, 54 hours and over 55 hours per week had an increased stroke risk of 10 percent, 27 percent, and 33 percent respectively. They were also at a 13 percent increased risk of heart attacks.
Part of the reason may be due to sedentary jobs and inadequate exercise, having little time to focus on eating healthily, and stress.
People who work long hours are invariably more stressed, which increases the chances of getting a stroke. The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine published a study in 2011, which found that 10 percent of strokes are induced by work-related mental stress.
Not only does working long hours pose risks to your health, it decreases your productivity too. According to research by Stanford University, workers experience a two-third decrease in productivity when work hours increase, largely due to fatigue and stress.
A Straits Times report published on 14 April 2014 stated that more young professionals are suffering from insomnia, depression and hypertension due to extra-long work hours. Many of them are teachers, bankers or engineers who are in their 20s and 30s.
In Japan, there is a term known as karoshi, meaning death by working too hard. It is estimated that 400 Japanese workers die from karoshi each year. Factors leading to their death include stroke, heart attack and suicide.
Following the Dao
We encounter many stresses at work, including undesirable results, demanding bosses, heavy workloads, tight deadlines and so on. To cope with all this, we might want to keep this piece of ancient Chinese wisdom in mind:
‘The mandate of heaven is called nature; to follow nature is called the Dao’. Allowing yourself adequate rest is acting in accord with nature — a smart move that also has health benefits.
In fact, Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty had demonstrated that it was perfectly feasible to work less and play more in order to be effective and productive. Read the article “Work Less, Play More, and Other Productivity Hacks From a Manchurian Emperor” to learn his tips!