In Japan, overwork is such an ingrained part of life that there is a word to describe dying from it: karoshi.
Karoshi, which can be translated literally as “overwork death” in Japanese, is occupational sudden mortality. The major medical causes of karōshi deaths are heart attack and stroke due to stress and a starvation diet.
The country began taking steps to tackle its workplace culture after a 24-year-old advertising firm employee, Matsuri Takahashi, killed herself in 2015. She had clocked up more than 100 hours’ overtime in the months before her death.
In its first ever white paper on karoshi, published in 2016, the government said that one in five employees were at risk of death from overwork. Now, companies are being urged to give employees Monday mornings off once every month. The economy, trade and industry ministry hopes that ‘Shining Mondays’ will encourage workers to sleep in at the start of the week.
It was tested by the ministry itself: a third of staff were allowed to arrive at the office after lunch. Officials said that the absence of staff had not impacted the ministry’s work. In February 2017, a scheme called ‘Premium Fridays’ urged employees in Japan to leave work early on Fridays to go home to their families.
This year’s government report on karoshi, or deaths from overwork, has urged special attention be paid to the working environments of school teachers and nurses. People in these professions account for a large share of recent karoshi cases.
The government approved this year’s karoshi white paper at a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.
The report said there have been about 200 deaths, including suicides, from overwork annually over the past few years.
It looked into possible factors behind the deaths of school teachers and medical workers.
The cases of 28 schooteachers from 2010 through 2014 were examined. The teachers were deemed to have suffered from work-related mental illnesses. In 14 cases, dealing with pupils and their parents was raised as a factor in the mental illnesses. Unusual incidents, including violence from children, were noted in 8 cases.
In 52 work-related deaths of nurses in the same period, violence from patients was a factor in mental illnesses in 23 cases. The report found another 17 cases involved experiencing incidents and disasters, such as patients taking their own lives.
The report said teachers and nurses are not only prone to work long hours, but also face stressful conditions. It calls for efforts to relieve their stress and help maintain their mental health.