In Japan, people are dying from overworking. Literally.


Last Updated on 2016-05-19 , 1:43 pm

If you think Singapore is bad, think again. We might be the unhappiest and most overworked people in the entire world, but we’re still not as bad off when you hear what’s going on in Japan.

Japanese workers are now committing suicide due to long working hours, or karoshi, a phenomenon which is usually associated with long working hours suffered by salaried men. This phenomenon used to only affect middle aged white collar men but is now increasingly affecting the young and female workers.

Japan high living costs is no secret to most people, and to keep up with their lifestyle, the only way is to work hard, and sometimes, you literally work till you die. Karoshi is typically divided into 2 different categories: death from cardiovascular illness linked to overworked or suicide following work-related mental stress.

In March lasts year, claims for compensation for karoshi rose to a record high of 1456 cases with cases mostly associated in the healthcare and construction sector which are suffering from chronic labour shortage.

Mr Hiroshi Kawahito, Secretary General of the National Defence Counsel for Victims of Karoshi claims that the actual figures may be higher than reported as government are not willing to admit the severity of the Karoshi phenomenon. The situation for karoshi has been changing across the years.

In 1980s, 95% of the victims were middle aged men in white collar jobs, but now, about 20% of the victims are females. The situation is worsening in Japan as there are no legal limits on working hours. Suicide cases have increased about 45% among those who are 29 years old and younger, and 39% among women.

The situation has become problematic within Japan as employers have adopted a “bait-and-switch”policy. Despite appearing to offer a full time position with reasonable working hours, successful applicants would then be offered a non-regular contract, and would be expected to work overtime without having extra pay. Women who are returning back to workforce or inexperienced employees feel obliged to take up these jobs due to the lack of experience.

Some companies took it a step further, informing the applicants that their salary includes 80 hours overtime. Employees who fail to fulfill the hours will be made to pay reparations to the companies. It is also illegal for employees to refuse overtime work or break time.

Let’s draw this phenomenon closer to home. In Singapore, 1/4 of the workers here in Singapore are under huge amount of stress as well. And we predict the trend to increase even further, especially since we are so similar to Japan. After all, they are experiencing a tight labour market partly due to an ageing population. Does that sound familiar?

So, let us end off with a short message: Even though living in Singapore is stressful,  remember to work hard and to play hard. No job is more precious than your life. Life is so much more than making big bucks and living in a big house. Take time off to unwind and to spend precious time with your family.

Top Image: Vassamon Anansukkasem /