October 06, 2017

Japanese journalist "dies from overwork"

Japanese journalist "dies from overwork"

Working conditions in Japan are under scrutiny after labor standards inspectors concluded that the death of a 31-year-old journalist in 2013 was a result of overwork.

Miwa Sado worked at the Tokyo headquarters of public broadcaster NHK, and had clocked up 159 hours of overtime with only two days off in the month before her death. She died of congestive heart failure days after the local election she had been covering.

Death from overwork is a phenomenon known as "karoshi", and has become a major issue in Japan due to the highly pressurized workplace culture. The Japanese government released their first white paper on karoshi last year, revealing that more than 2,000 Japanese workers died as a result of suicide, heart attacks and strokes due to work stress in the year to March 2016.

The paper shows that employees in Japan work much longer hours than those in other developed countries, with nearly a quarter of companies reporting dangerous levels of overtime. Additionally, Japanese workers take an average of only 8.8 days off each year, less than half of their allocated holiday.

Sado’s death is the latest in a number of high profile karoshi cases, and has increased pressure on the Japanese government to improve working conditions and change attitudes towards work-life balance. One proposed strategy is to cap monthly overtime at 100 hours, and impose sanctions on companies that do not comply.

Writing about overtime regulation for IZA World of Labor, Ronald L. Oaxaca suggests that limiting work hours “can protect workers who might otherwise be required to work more than they would like to at the going rate.” Imposing an overtime premium is an example of a policy that has been used in the US to reduce work time.

However, Oaxaca reports that “regulation of overtime raises employment costs” and can lead to an increase in multiple job holding. Additionally, evidence shows that increased overtime premiums have “little effect on the share of workers who work overtime or on weekly overtime hours per worker.”

Read related articles on our personnel economics key topics page.

For specific questions, contact one of our topic spokespeople.