In Japan, the “karoshi“, That is, death from overwork, is considered a serious social problem: in 2019, the latest data available, were recognized in the country 174 deaths linked to excessive workload, 88 of which have happened for suicide. In recognizing karoshi, the authorities do not rely on the clinical cause of death (which can be a heart attack, a stroke or even a suicide, in which case we speak of “karo-jisatsu“) But rather on the working conditions that may have triggered the crisis.
For example, last March the Japanese Office of Control on Working Conditions he ascertained that the death of a employee of the electronics giant Sony, which occurred in the UAE in January 2018, was caused by overwork. The man, who was between 40 and 50 years old, is died of a heart attack. From what resulted in the subsequent investigation, in the three months prior to his death, he had worked 80 more average monthly hours normal time.
There Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 it complicated attempts to enforce rules aimed at reducing excess working hours, mainly due to the reticence relating to smartworking, which contrasts with the image of the devoted worker who spends overtime in his workplace .
Japan: the challenge of 4 working days a week
Recently, the Japanese government announced its intention to encourage companies, through the guidelines of the Annual economic plan, to leave decide for their employees whether to work 4 or 5 days a week, with the aim of creating a better balance between employment and private life.
It will be the worker who decides the plan that best meets his expectations, comparing himself with the needs of the company. The social costs of the measure will be reflected in the budget for the next fiscal year, and will allow employers to introduce the option of the 4 working day week.
The measure seems intent on echoing the “incredible success” of the experiment conducted in Iceland, where the four-day work week it has led to a reduction in working hours for most of the country’s workers. Also in Spain last March the government approved the left-wing Mas Paìs party’s proposal to reduce the working week to 32 hours to allow workers to spend less time in the office for equal pay.
According to a survey by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), while working on average fewer hours than countries like Italy, Australia and Canada, Japanese employees use a fewer vacation days throughout the year, with a level of corporate flexibility and efficiency that remains much lower.
In 2015, 93 suicides and suicide attempts were officially recognized as deaths from overwork and eligible for compensation, and 96 deaths from heart attack, stroke and other illnesses were associated with overwork.
In 2018, to address this problem, a bill was approved that amends eight labor laws with the aim of improving the work-life balance in the country. The measures, in force since 2022, include limits on the number of working hours, a minimum of five days of paid annual leave and a fine for employers who have broken these new rules.
Read also: In Iceland, the 4-day work week experiment was “an incredible success”