Overwork, also known as excessive work or work overload, is an occupational condition characterized by working excessively, frequently at the expense of the worker's physical and mental health. It includes working beyond one's capacity, leading to fatigue, stress, and potential health complications.


Compulsory, mandatory, or forced overtime is usually defined as hours worked in excess of forty hours per week "that the employer makes compulsory with the threat of job loss or the threat of other reprisals such as demotion or assignment to unattractive tasks or work shifts".[1]



Overwork, by its nature, is a stressor. The constant pressure to meet deadlines, handle heavy workloads, and maintain productivity can trigger a chronic stress response. This prolonged exposure to stress can lead the individual to a range of mental and physical health issues such as anxiety, sleep disorders, depression, and burnout.[2]

Extended work hours can lead to decreased productivity due to fatigue, misdirected focus, and exhaustion.[2][3]


In 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that over 745,000 people died from stroke and heart disease as a result of working long hours. The WHO stated that overworking can pose a significant threat to cardiovascular health due to various physiological mechanisms. One of the primary reasons for this is the chronic stress that overworking can cause, which triggers the release of stress hormones like cortisol. These hormones can lead to elevated blood pressure and cholesterol levels, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke.[4]

By country


In Japan, workers typically used less than half of their leave allowance in a year, according to a survey by the labour ministry which found that in 2013 employees took only nine of their 18.5 days average entitlement. A separate poll showed that one in every six workers took no paid holidays at all in 2013. In early discussions, employer groups proposed limiting the number of compulsory paid holidays to three days, while unions called for eight.[5]

South Korea

According to Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) data, Koreans work 2,024 hours a year, ranking third in the world among OECD countries. This is 280 hours longer than the OECD average of 1,744 hours.[6] Problems caused by overwork are growing in Korea.[7]

United States

American legislation related to overwork includes the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Government and policy makers

Organizations concerned with overwork include:

See also


  1. ^ Lung S. "Overwork and overtime" (PDF). mckinneylaw.iu.edu. Retrieved May 26, 2015.
  2. ^ a b Wong K, Chan AHS, Ngan SC (June 2019). "The Effect of Long Working Hours and Overtime on Occupational Health: A Meta-Analysis of Evidence from 1998 to 2018". Int J Environ Res Public Health. 16 (12): 2102. doi:10.3390/ijerph16122102. PMC 6617405. PMID 31200573.
  3. ^ Carmichael SG (August 19, 2015). "The Research Is Clear: Long Hours Backfire for People and for Companies". Harvard Business Review. Retrieved November 27, 2023.
  4. ^ Pega F, Náfrádi B, Momen NC, Ujita Y, Streicher KN, Prüss-Üstün AM, et al. (September 2021). "Global, regional, and national burdens of ischemic heart disease and stroke attributable to exposure to long working hours for 194 countries, 2000-2016: A systematic analysis from the WHO/ILO Joint Estimates of the Work-related Burden of Disease and Injury". Environ Int. 154: 106595. doi:10.1016/j.envint.2021.106595. PMC 8204267. PMID 34011457.
  5. ^ "Japan court orders $580k damages for overwork suicide". ABC News. November 5, 2014. Retrieved June 8, 2015.
  6. ^ "Employment - Hours worked - OECD Data". theOECD.
  7. ^ Kwon J, Field A (November 5, 2018). "Can South Korea fix its deadly working culture and give people their lives back?". CNN.

Further reading