Updated: Jul 2, 2019
Not many people may be familiar with the Japanese word "karoshi" but it is a highly pertinent word in our culture because it exists here and we pay it little mind. The word originally applied solely to "salary man" meaning those who strive in the Japanese
culture to climb up or remain on the ladder of corporate advancement. These men, yes only men, were expected to not only work hours longer than humanly possible, but go out drinking with their bosses after hours and then return to work the next day.
How long could this last? Apparently, it may have lasted quite some time but was never brought to the fore until a widow sued for her husband's death claiming he had been literally worked to death. Prior to that man's death, a young woman working at an ad agency died of suicide secondary to overwork. She had sent texts to her mother indicating she was getting an average of 10 hours of sleep A WEEK.
According to The Financial Times: "Ms Takahashi’s death came to light late last year after her parents went public with the conclusion of the local labour standards bureau that their daughter had been a victim of karoshi — the legally recognised “death by overwork” syndrome from which, officially, at least 200 Japanese die every year, and which labour groups believe silently claims many more."
Reading "Unbelievable" by Katy Tur, the TV journalist who covered the campaign of Donald Trump, I was struck by the
maddeningly demanding pace of her work. There seemed to be little consideration for her as a human being and more as a means of getting news on TV ASAP. Her life was of no consequence, seemingly, and I wondered how karoshi may have slipped its way into our American media. If it's in the TV media, where else might it be? We know recent medical school graduates are given punishing schedules that can lead to not only personal life crises, but medical mistakes and too-frequent suicides of new physicians.
It is estimated that 3-400 physician a year kill themselves. Of course, the actual number may be difficult to pin down because of a variety of factors. For one, insurance policies have suicide clauses in them, then, too, the medical establishment doesn't want to admit the problem of suicide and statistics are often skewed because death certificates giving a cause other than suicide.
We have to wonder which professions or careers are placing employees at risk of sudden death or suicide because of intolerable demands on their time at the risk of health. Certainly, we could consider those in any of the digital media areas as being vulnerable where people often boast about doing all-night coding sessions for "fun." How much fun is a steady diet of no sleep?
How is the American workforce protected from this insidious form of death by overwork? Or are there no protections at all in the new gig culture in which we find ourselves? Job loss would seem to be one factor working toward a karoshi culture.