Long Work Hours, Stress Can Kill You

There's no doubt about it, pharmacists put in long hours. The average workweek ranges from 42 to 46 hours, but many retail pharmacists put in 12-hour shifts in stores that are open 24/7. Online comments posted by working pharmacists in the United States record workweeks as long as 84 hours and averages of about 51 hours per week. These long hours can lead to stress and burnout, 2 distinct conditions afflicting the health care profession in general. According to an article published in the American Journal of Epidemiology (March 1, 2009), "Long Working Hours and Cognitive Function," working too many hours also can actually "rot" your brain, or cause impairments of clinical significance (http://tinyurl.com/yg68rth).

The research focused on 2214 British civil servants with an average age of 52.1 years, and included 5-year follow-up evaluations. Participants who worked the longest hours-more than 55 hours per week-were impaired, with lower vocabulary scores and lower reasoning scores compared with those who worked 40 hours or fewer per week. Furthermore, the loss of cognitive functions paralleled that of smoking, a risk factor for dementia.

Working long hours also leads to stress, a condition that can have serious implications. Stress-related suicides have been reported for employees of France Telecom-24 suicides and 13 attempts as of early this month-and psychologists point to the increased pressure on employees since the global economic downturn. People who have less control over their working conditions and the amount of time they need to work are more likely to be ill, depressed, or experience burnout. In Japan, there is even a word for it-karoshi or death from overwork-and 377 cases were recognized by the government last year. Japanese lawyers claim the number should be more like 10,000 cases, as workers put in longer hours and exhibit more stress-related diseases in today's economic climate.

Pharmacists have been studied for stress and work burnout, and there are key indicators that alert to these conditions, as reported in Pharmacy Times. They can take action to circumvent the worst case scenarios by taking charge of their personal and professional lives (http://tinyurl.com/yzyvlez). When long work hours and stress turn into cynicism and depression, the pharmacist should seek prevention strategies and set realistic expectations.

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