(Business Insider) A 24-year-old’s ‘death from overwork’ causes Japan to rethink work-life balance
Chris Weller Dec. 29, 2016, 10:48 AM
In Japanese the word is karoshi, or “death from overwork.”
The latest karoshi victim was 24-year-old Matsuri Takahashi, who worked for the Japanese ad agency Dentsu and reportedly logged 105 overtime hours in one month. At work she tried to maintain appearances, but on Twitter she spoke the truth.
“It’s 4 a.m. My body’s trembling,” she reportedly said in one post. “I’m going to die. I’m so tired.”
Takahashi leapt from the company dormitory around Christmas last year. This past Wednesday, Dentsu’s president and CEO, Tadashi Ishii, announced he would resign in March.
Japan’s government has been trying desperately over the past several years to change the cultural attitudes toward work. Earlier this year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe launched a “work style reform” panel seeking to make time off more alluring for Japanese workers.
Though the results have been mixed, some private companies have started to lead the change.
Dentsu, for its part, now forces people to take at least five days off every six months. It also shuts the lights off every night at 10 p.m. as an incentive for people to head home.
Other companies have opted to shift their allowable overtime hours to the morning. The trading house Itochu Corp. opens its doors at 5 a.m. for anyone who wants to avoid staying late at the office. Employees who show up early get treated to a light breakfast and earn the same extra wages they would have gotten at the end of the day.
But as Abe’s reform signals, the country has larger issues related to overtime that it must address for the sake of public health.
A report from October, which examined karoshi cases and their cause of death, found that more than 20% of people in a survey of 10,000 said they worked at least 80 hours of overtime a month. And compared with the US, where 16.4% of people work an average of 49 hours or longer each week, in Japan more than 20% do. Half of all respondents said they give up taking paid vacations.
As per the report, many of the overwork deaths were caused by suicide, heart failure, heart attack, or stroke — all of which can be brought on by excessive stress.