What’s Been Happening?
Karoshi, a Japanese term for “death by overwork” is an inevitable result of Japan’s gruelling work culture that is rarely discussed.
The culture where long hours and after-work social engagements are typical, dates back decades. Koji Morioka, a professor at Kansai University in Japan, has commented that a Japanese workplace always has overtime work. It’s almost a part of scheduled hours. At least one in five Japanese employees work 49 hours or more every week.
In December 2015, 24 year old Matsuri Takahashi committed suicide after having clocked 105 hours of overtime within a one month period. In the same year, Kiyotaka Seriwaza who was a maintenance worker killed himself after putting in 90 hour weeks.
NHK, the public broadcaster that employed a reporter by the name of Miwa Sado has only just released more details surrounding her death in 2013. NHK said that it waited to make the information about her death public out of deference to her family. Sado was a Japanese journalist whose work schedule included 159 hours of overtime and just two days off in a single month. This inevitably led to a heart failure that killed her at the age of 31.
In a statement released by Labour regulators, they ruled that her death was another case of “karoshi”. “It can be inferred that she was in a state of accumulated fatigue and chronic sleep deprivation”.
In light of the growing attention surrounding “karoshi”, the Japanese government has been taking steps to end the norm of long working hours so that there is an appropriate work life balance for its people. Earlier this year, legislation was passed introducing a “Premium Friday” which lets people leave the office a couple of hours early – but not every Friday, only the last Friday of each month. However, the scheme is not mandatory so it is unclear how many businesses will actually participate in this initiative.
Companies have been joining the effort to change the gruelling work culture. The ad agency Dentsu has begun shutting its lights off in its headquarters at 10pm and requires its workers to take at least five days off every six months. Japan Post Insurance, a life insurance company, shuts its lights off at 7:30pm.
There’s still a lot more that can be done and though new company policies or legislation can be passed quickly, effectively implementing and transforming work culture can take anywhere from a few months to a few years.