Karoshi – death through overwork

I’ve written previously about inemuri – the Japanese habit of sleeping at work due their culture of long hours and presenteeism.  What is even worse is “karoshi” – literally “death through overwork”.

Inemuri was seen in work mainly among Japanese salary men and office ladies.  However, karoshi and death through overwork has been much more widespread throughout the Japanese workforce since 1967 when it was first recorded.

Nor contrary to the stereotype are its victims middle-aged men.

  • Ms D was a 22 year old woman who died of a heart attack after 34 hour continuous shifts 5 times a month.
  • Mr B was a 37 year old bus driver who worked 3,000 hours a year (an average of 60 hours a week) and had not had a day off of work since the age of 22.
  • Mr A who died of a heart attack at 34 after regularly working up to 110 hour weeks. 

But this couldn’t happen here in the UK could it?  Surely the death Bank of America Merrill Lynch intern Moritz Erhardt from an epileptic seizure in 2013 following 72 hour shifts was a wake-up call in work place culture?

The latest move by law firm Kirkland and Ellis, based in the iconic Gherkin skyscraper in the City of London, suggests not.  It is offering all of its 300 lawyers free personal assistants available 24 hours a day, and 7 days a week.

As the Association of Women Solicitors told The Telegraph: “This service, and others like it such as on site dental/medical treatment and ‘dinner at your desk’, is indicative of a much wider cultural problem: namely that the measure of a person’s success is the amount of time they spend in the office chair and therefore the number of hours they bill.

“We applaud the efforts of a concierge, however we would be concerned that any semblance of work life balance may well disappear.”

Six years on from Moritz Erhardt, and 50 years of karoshi in Japan and we still don’t seem to have grasped the lessons about work and life balance.

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