apan’s push to take away overtime from high-paid workers has critics warning that it will aggravate a problem synonymous with the country’s notoriously long working hours – karoshi, or death from overwork.
Teruyuki Yamashita knows the risks all too well. The now 53-year-old worked day and night in a senior sales job, made countless overseas business trips, and slept an average of just three hours a night.
Six years ago, his frantic work pace took a near fatal turn after he collapsed from a subarachnoid haemorrhage, a type of brain bleeding, leading to three weeks in intensive care – and the loss of his sight.
“I told a nurse that it was dark – I didn’t realise that I was blind,” Yamashita said, recalling when he woke up in hospital.
Hundreds of deaths related to overwork – from strokes, heart attacks and suicide – are reported every year in Japan, along with a host of serious health problems, sparking lawsuits and calls to tackle the problem.
While the basic idea behind the bill may have merit, sadly the unintended consequences will likely be disastrous. There is good reason why we say the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
What will likely end up happening is this: employers will require employees to sign new “no overtime” contracts while forcing them to perform additional duties they cannot possibly complete on-time. In turn, the employees will work longer hours than previously, with zero compensation, and thus will likely end up dying or being hospitalized from excessive work. Talk about a no-win, screw-your-work-life-balance situation.
Japan needs to get out of the habit of merely staying in the office for long hours for the sake of appearances. Tangible demonstration of work completed should be far more important than staying at your desk until almost midnight, doing nothing merely because your boss has not yet left the office. Unfortunately this is the work environment many Japanese find themselves locked into and it likely not going to change in the near future.