Japan: ‘Death by overwork’ in Japan exposes dangers of overtime culture

Author: Leo Lewis, Financial Times (UK), Published on: 17 January 2017

dentsu executives credit_AP

A recent health ministry report found Japanese slept even less in 2015 than they did in the pressurised 1980s. Corporate Japan’s long-term shift to employing more part-time workers has served to increase the workloads on full-time staff. ... Reform attempts are under way. There is an existing policy to name and shame companies that force more than 100 hours of overtime per month on employees. The threshold will be lowered to 80 hours. Failing bosses will have to explain themselves to the ministry of health, labour and welfare. But the Premium Friday campaign may prove to be a cosmetic publicity drive unless Japanese companies change the culture. In a deliberately high-visibility strategy last October, Dentsu’s Tokyo headquarters and regional offices were raided by labour office inspectors. This resulted in the company saying it would turn its office lights off at 10pm each evening. Dentsu then lowered the maximum number of overtime hours it would officially allow each employee to work. But according to one current employee: “One of the first things you learn when you arrive is how to clock out with your pass card then duck back under the entry gates so you can work unofficial overtime without officially." ... Just as sushi and karaoke are part of daily life in Japan’s neighbours, South Korea and Taiwan, so is karoshi. There was one such death every 12 days on average in Taiwan between 2010-2014, official statistics show. The Chinese-speaking archipelago calls the phenomenon guolaosi, a loan word from the Japanese. ... Death by overwork is common in South Korea, where it is known as gwarosa, another loan word from the Japanese. In mainland China, the state television broadcaster reported in December that the country has 6,000 deaths from overwork per year. In Chinese technology companies, Nine-Nine-Six is slang for starting work at 9am and checking out at 9pm for six days in a week.

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Related companies: Dentsu