In Japan there is a term for death by overwork; Karoshi. “By 2015, claims of ‘death of overwork’ had risen to a record high of 2,310.” Reports of corporate workers in Japan (also known as ‘salarymen’) dying due to overwork first came to light in 1987. The issue has become so widespread that the deceased family can receive an annual government payment of $20,000 and up to $1.6 million from their former employer.
But can you really die by overworking yourself, or is it just a case of old age and misdiagnosed medical conditions? According to an example given by the BBC News, it is very possible to kill yourself through overexertion at work. Take Kenji Hamada as an example: “Kenji Hamada was an employee at a Tokyo-based security company, … His typical week involved 15-hour days and a gruelling four-hour commute. Then one day he was found slumped over his desk; his colleagues assumed he was asleep. When he hadn’t moved several hours later, they realised he was dead. He had died of a heart attack at the age of 42.”
During the mid-1980’s, the Japanese economy exploded. “Abnormalities in the country’s economic system fueled a rapid and unsustainable escalation in the prices of shares and real estate.” This expanding economy led to a work increase for salarymen but also pushed them to their mental and physical limits. It is estimated that nearly seven million people were working 60 hours a week at this time. Towards the late 1980’s, both blue and white collar workers were falling victim to Karoshi at high rates.
Karoshi does not only afflict Japanese workers however. China, for example, loses an estimated 600,000 workers every year (about 1,600 people a day), from Guolaosi, the Chinese equivalent of Karoshi.
Death from overwork is real. In my opinion, everyone needs time away from work to relax and enjoy life. Now I understand there are those who are forced to work long hours to feed their family, but the human body does have limits. Work cannot continue if your body does not allow it. Ralph Martson said it best. “Rest when you’re weary. Refresh and renew yourself, your body, your mind, your spirit. Then get back to work.”