Karoshi. Death by Overwork.

It seems that Canada’s work-life balance is out of kilter, based on a recent poll featured in the Globe and Mail. At least most Canadians polled are familiar with the term work-life balance. Apparently only 10% of Japanese workers are familiar with the term.

The Japanese culture places great emphasis on work ethic. Not to say that North Americans don’t, but I’m not sure 4/5 of us would cancel a date with a loved one if a supervisor asked us to stay late. Okay, maybe once in a while (depending on the project), but definitely not on a regular basis.

Last night I watched a documentary on happiness entitled, Happy. It featured the story of a Japanese woman who had lost her husband to Karoshi. Yes, death due to overwork has become so common in Japan that they have a name for it. Her husband was a quality control manager at a Toyota plant. Leading up to his death she had noticed higher levels of fatigue, increasing worry lines and less time engaged with his daughter. On the night of his death something happened in the plant – a defect of some sort. While on the phone to his supervisor, asking for help, he dropped to the floor, dead.

Japan has an association for victims of Karoshi. This woman, featured in the documentary, is a member.

There are a multitude of factors that have contributed to this workcentric culture. The 90’s economic challenges along with the current economic challenges faced by citizens all over the world are major factors. Japanese workers are now dealing with the threat of job loss, wage reductions, increasing responsibility on the job due to job cuts elsewhere (so one person has to do the job of 3 people), and fewer breaks. Yes, I know these are issues faced all over the globe; however, the Japanese people haven’t had much of a break since the early 90s.

Based on the results in the Globe and Mail it seems that we Canadians aren’t doing much better. We’re working more, feeling more depressed and less satisfied. So what can we do?

Happy (that documentary I watched) reiterated the importance of strong social bonds between family and friends. It has been repeatedly shown that cultures with a strong sense of community are on the whole, happier. People who help people feel a greater sense of purpose. Having purpose along with a strong social network is crucial for us humans – without it, we tend to be a little more sad, less happy.

So this weekend, instead of working, have lunch with a good friend. Call your mom. Talk to your aunt. Go for a walk with your partner. Sit in the park (if it’s warm enough…). Enjoy your community – both the one you live in and the one you have developed throughout your life. Trust me, it’s worth it.




3 thoughts on “Karoshi. Death by Overwork.

  1. Thanks for this blog, Morgan! It’s an excellent reminder to stay focused on the important things in life. We are all expendable at work. If we get sick or as in this article, die, we are so easily replaced and work goes on. Not so easily for the family left behind and tragic for the one who lost their life due to work stress. So sad.

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