Most people would happily work for fewer hours each week. But data from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development show that having more downtime is no guarantee of feeling more at ease.
Countries with longer working hours – which tend to be poorer places – generally have fewer reported cases of stress-related illness. Countries with shorter working hours – mostly richer places – typically have high incidences of anxiety and depression. Long holidays aren’t a guarantee of contentment either. The French and Finnish governments require workers to be given six weeks’ paid leave a year, yet those countries have high levels of reported stress.
These data are put together by the WHO, which tallies cases in each country, weighted by severity. The most stressed nation in this sample is the Netherlands. In 2012, anxiety and depression cost 30- to 60-year-old Dutch adults about 32 years of healthy life per 1,000 people. Measured in those terms, the burden was greater than stomach, colon, liver, pancreatic, lung, breast and cervical cancers put together. Mexican workers, by contrast, clock 60% more hours at work, and are a third as wealthy – yet are diagnosed with psychological problems half as often as the Dutch.
It may be that working longer hours leaves people with less time to ruminate on life’s slings and arrows. But low levels of reported stress may not necessarily be good news. People in poor countries may be less likely to report mental illness because their health services make less provision for psychological conditions and their societies are less accepting of such problems.
Those who are unwilling to ask for help may seek other ways out of their pain. South Korea is a grim example of this: it has the third-lowest reported prevalence of anxiety or depression, but the highest suicide rate. ~ James Tozer