In recent months, science has reminded us that bad bosses can make us sick. It's warned us that sitting too long is hazardous to our health. It's shown us that by giving up sleep to clock in more hours at work, our jobs are literally killing us.
And now, say researchers in an article published in the British Medical Journal earlier this week, working long hours could be driving us to drink too much alcohol, too. The study — a "meta-analysis" of other published research that covered more than 400,000 people — found that those working beyond the standard 40 hours per week were more likely to drink risky levels of booze. They defined "risky" as more than 14 drinks a week for women, or more than 21 drinks a week for men.
The review examined two groups of studies. One showed that people with more than a 40-hour work week were, generally, more likely to drink heavily than those with regular hours. The other group found that those working between 49 and 54 hours a week had the biggest risk of starting to overindulge. The study did concede, however, that the risk of developing this type of behavior was relatively small in absolute terms.
The researchers did not explicitly say why the link exists between longer hours and more boozy behavior. Instead, they suggested alcohol could be used to relieve stress, that Type A workers could end up in jobs with longer hours, or that there could be an associated link between demanding jobs, alcohol use and people with existing depression or sleep problems.
None of this is terribly surprising, of course. But taken together, it's a grim and dreary assessment of the impact our jobs can have on our health. What was less anticipated about the new study's results is that the researchers found no difference across geographical regions or socioeconomic groups. In other words, as Time noted, CEOs who end the day with a few glasses of pricey scotch and minimum-wage workers who throw back a few beers after their second shift are both more likely to over-drink than those who work fewer hours.
Perhaps some companies will see this research and think about adding alcohol awareness seminars to their wellness programs, or turning the holiday party dry or putting a stop to frequent happy hours. But the most important thing companies could do to help — making real changes that encourage shorter hours — is even less likely to make the top of their list.