Japanese Employee Dies from Exhaustion – How ‘Salaryman’ Culture Affects the Workforce
The circumstances surrounding the death of 31 year old Miwa Sado have just been made public, though she passed away in 2013. Sado was a political reporter, and an overworked one at that – which it has now been revealed was the cause of her death by heart failure. NHK (Sado’s former employer) reported that she had worked about 159 hours of overtime in the month before her death. This means that she was working in just one week what most full time employees clock in a full (two week) pay period.
Stories such as Sado’s are not unfamiliar to Japanese culture – they even have a special term for it, “karoshi” which translates to “death by overwork”. The term was originally coined in the 1970s as Japan’s economy boomed. Labor lawyers and civil rights groups have been pressing for legislative change since the 1980s, but the trend has continued in spite of this.
In December 2015, a similar tragedy took place. Matsuri Takashi, a 24 year old employee of Dentsu, an advertising agency, jumped to her death from the company dormitory. “Ms. Takashi’s death was caused by serious depression triggered by overwork and harassment,” Hiroshi Kawahito, a lawyer representing her case, told CNN Money. In the month leading to her death, Takashi clocked about 105 hours of overtime, according to investigators. After concluding its investigation, Dentsu announced that they would be capping overtime hours to a maximum of 65 per month.
But how do work hours measure up across different countries? According to the International Labour Organization, Americans work an average of 137 hours more per year than Japanese workers. The United States is arguably the most overworked developed nation in the world – and it comes down to more than just hours worked per week.
- The United States is the only industrialized country which has no legally required annual leave program – even Japanese workers are required to receive 10 days off per year
- The United States is not one of the 134 countries which sets a limit on maximum hours worked per week
- There is no federal law requiring paid sick days in the United States
- The U.S. is the only country in the Americas without paid parental leave (maternal or paternal) to care for/bond with new children – the average in most other countries is 12 weeks of paid leave and 20 weeks of paid leave throughout Europe.