When work can kill you: Report on Japan’s karoshi

The first white paper published by the Japan’s government on the phenomenon of “Karoshi” hit the headline this autumn by highlighting the extent to which overwork can affect your health.

The term karoshi refers to cases of death due to extremely long working hours. Two types of karoshi are officially recognised: death from cardiovascular illness linked to overwork, and suicide due to work-related mental stress.

Though the phenomenon entered the public debate since the late ‘80s, the report published this October is the first attempt by the government to shed light into its causes and mainstream working practices, and it comes as 2015 signals a record high of over 1400 compensation claims due to karoshi.

The report presents main finding from a survey conducted between December 2015 and January 2016, targeting 10,000 companies and collecting feedback from about 1,700 of them.


Main findings include:

  • About 21% of Japanese employees work at least 49 or more hours per week (as a reference, the average in US, UK, and France is between 10 and 15%.
  •  22.7% (a fifth) of companies surveyed acknowledged they had staff working more than 80 hours of overtime per month (which is the official threshold after which risk of death from cardiovascular diseases and other problems escalates dramatically).
  •  11% of companies surveyed reported to have staff working more than 100 hours of extra time per month.
  • Looking at industry sectors, the IT sector has the highest percentage of overworking staff (44%), followed by academic, research and engineering (40.5%),  transport and postal services (38.4%).

The government is looking into structural reforms to the labour market with a panel headed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Among the targets, is the goal of lowering the percentage of employees working more than 60 hours a week to 5% of the total workforce.

Sources: The Japan Times