It's been a hard day's day

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Elizabeth Newman, McKnight's Senior Editor
Elizabeth Newman, McKnight's Senior Editor
Providers have one big reason to cut back on overtime: It can lead to a hemorrhage of money. But now there's another: It could make your employees depressed.

In what will likely come across as a shock to no one who has routinely worked long days, researchers are increasingly finding that those who put in the longest hours have higher levels of depression and anxiety.

The longest days during my career were as a newspaper reporter, where a day would often begin with 8 a.m. interviews and end at 11 p.m. after covering a community meeting. But long-term care employees can face even greater challenges, whether it's a resident emergency, lack of staff, or paperwork that becomes a Sisyphean task to complete. 

Whether or not that time can get coded as overtime, the long work hours have a hidden cost. In a study of British civil servants, researchers found that over five years, those who worked 11 hours a day or more had more than double the risk of developing depression when compared to those who had a traditional seven- to eight-hour workday. Factors such as smoking, alcohol use, job strain and social support had little association, researchers found, although a 2010 study found that overtime work adversely affects coronary health.

There's no guarantee that an extra three hours in the evening will lead an employee to eat dinner with her spouse, go for a walk, or read a book to a child. But it's pretty clear that working from dark until dark means that the activities that balance out one's life can easily be pushed into the “non-necessary” category.

In a McKnight's webinar last year, OnShift CEO Mark Woodka estimated that a 1% reduction in overtime hours per year could save a facility between $24,000 and $60,000 per year. There's no way to estimate what a facility also could save for workers who suddenly have the time to sleep or exercise. But at the very least it could lead to healthier and happier employees.


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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.