by Graham Pierrepoint
We’ve all heard – and possibly even used – the phrase ‘working to death’. Thankfully, it’s largely used as something of a cliché and hyperbole at worst – as most people are able to stop driving themselves to impossible deadlines and workloads before they burn out completely. For thousands of people around the world, however, stopping work isn’t as easy as it may seem on paper. Whether it’s thanks to increasing demand or sheer passion, people burn out each and every day – and in Japan, where work culture is considerably high octane, the relatively recent demise of a young woman has brought certain aspects of their national ethic into question.
Japan is a famously hard-working nation – how else have they established themselves as home to so many leading names in electronics and entertainment? Sony, Toshiba, Hitachi, Huawei, Fuji, Nintendo, Panasonic – they’re all staples of the Japanese Dream. However, it seems that even in the media side of the Japanese working day, people are burning themselves out to lethal extremes. There’s even a word for it in the local lingo – ‘karoshi’ – which is a noun that literally means ‘death from overworking’. The demise of a 31-year-old woman at NHK – a public broadcaster based in Tokyo – has raised questions from international media – as it emerged her death in 2013 from heart failure could likely have been brought on by 159 overtime hours in the month preceding. She only took two days off work, too – and for many, this revelation has raised questions that require sharpish answers.
The woman, Miwa Sado, has seen her tragic case reviewed by labor standards in the country and it is thought her death will cause further debate at a governmental level. The Japanese authorities are already said to be looking into lowering the monthly overtime rate to a cap of 100 hours maximum – as well as ways to penalize companies that refuse to adhere. It has reached a point where government representatives have outright discussed karoshi at a legal level – with almost 23% of businesses allowing their employees to work over 80 hours per month in addition to regular rotas.
It’s thought that over 2,000 Japanese people committed suicide thanks to overworking stress in a study running from March 2015 to March 2016, according to The Guardian – making it clear that change needs to come to Japan – and soon, if their workers are to remain healthy.