In the 1980s, the term ‘karōshi’ entered the Japanese language, literally translating to ‘death from overwork’. In 1987, the Japanese government began publishing statistics on karōshi as public concern over the phenomenon grew.
But now, it is reported that Japanese employers are striving to ease the stress being loaded onto their workers by forcing them to take holidays.
The nation records around 2,300 suicides a year which are linked to work and being overworked. In 2011, a record 2,689 work-related suicides were recorded.
Japanese workers have access to some of the globe’s most generous annual leave offerings, with 16 public holidays a year, and an average of more than 18 days of paid leave per worker a year.
In spite of this, statistics also show that the majority of the Japanese workforce takes less than half of its annual leave entitlements, with 16% of workers taking no leave at all.
This week, draft measures were announced in Japan to encourage companies to shorten working hours and let employees make better use of their annual leave. Legislation has also been passed which obligates employers to ensure their staff take at least five days’ paid leave.
In Japanese work culture, displaying a commitment to your company through sacrificial actions is commonplace; employees ordinarily refuse to leave the workplace before their superiors at the end of the working day.
According to Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, full time employees worked an average 173 hours of overtime in 2014, which is the highest the figure has been in two decades.
“Japanese companies tend to push current employees to work overtime rather than increase hiring when they get busy,” Koya Miyamae, an economist at SMBC Nikko Securities in Tokyo, told Bloomberg. “Labour shortages are forcing firms in some industries to have employees work longer.”
Currently, 9% of the Japanese workforce work over 60 hours per week. The government is aiming to reduce this figure to 5% by 2020. The government also wants workers to take more than 70% of their paid leave, according to the draft plan.