Working too much has been a problem for years in Japan. Back in 1969, the first documented “death from overworking” was reported when a 29-year-old employee at Japan’s largest newspaper passed away after suffering a stroke. A few years later, the phenomenon got a formal name: karoshi, which is now a legally-recognized cause of death in Japan, and families can receive compensation when breadwinners die from too much work.
In 2015, for example, there were 2,310 such claims. If granted, a victim’s family receives the equivalent of $20,000 USD a year compensation from the government and up to $1.6 million USD from the deceased's employer. Also in 2015, Japanese officials attributed 93 suicides or suicide attempts to working excessive hours. The National Defence Council for Victims of Karoshi asserts that there are actually far more work-related deaths every year than the official statistics portray -- possibly as many as 10,000.
Lives out of balance:
- After its defeat in World War II, the Japanese worked the longest hours in the world by far. “They were workaholics of the highest order,” says a stress expert. Today, though, Mexico is the global leader in overworking;
- Many of today’s young Japanese workers are choosing part-time work over a full-time job that comes with tons of overtime. Known as “freeters,” this ever-growing segment of the workforce works for hourly wages rather than regular salaries.
- In 2017, Japan launched a program called “Premium Friday” that encouraged employers to let workers leave at 3 p.m. on the last Friday of every month -- a drop in the bucket when workers average 20 or more hours of overtime every week.