Too Many Hours at Work Linked to Alcoholism

People who work more than 11 hours a day in stressful jobs are at higher risk for alcoholism, eating disorders, Crohn’s disease, and heart attacks, according to a new study from the University of Southern California.

Alexandra Michel, an assistant management professor at USC’s Marshall School of Business, studied 24 bankers working on Wall Street during the first six years of their careers after they graduated from business school. The banks tended to hire candidates based on their energy levels, because most of the jobs required between 80 and 120 hours a week. The employers deliberately blurred the distinction between work and home life by providing childcare, car service, valet, 24 hour administrative support, and even free caffeine. Although many of the people in this study felt the stress in the first few years of employment, they continued in their jobs because they thought they believe they might be their once-in-a-lifetime chance to work for a big Wall Street bank.

During the first few years on the job, workers in this study performed well and the banks benefitted. However, according to Professor Michel, around year four, the long hours took their toll and people experienced physical and emotional breakdowns. They had symptoms such as back pain, weight gain, insomnia, depression, as well as consuming too much alcohol, food, and pornography. Many began to skip their gym sessions and otherwise stopped taking care of themselves. Working long hours not only caused health problems, it also was related to a drop in productivity.

“When you work 120 hours a week, something snaps,” said Professor Michel. “But the interesting finding is what exactly snaps. It’s not technical accuracy; the bankers were quite precise in what they were doing. What snaps is creativity, judgment, and that’s really important in our new knowledge-based economy, because we now compete on innovations.”

The study appears in the journal Administrative Science Quarterly.


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