How Will COVID-19 Impact the 'Karoshi' Phenomenon?

How Will COVID-19 Impact the 'Karoshi' Phenomenon?

With economies falling, inflation rampant, and the rate of unemployment increasing, the pandemic has not been easy for anyone.

Back in 1969, the death of a Japanese worker in the shipping department of a well-known publishing company was reported. The cause of death was said to be a stroke. No one could conclude much from an isolated incident at the time, but Japan was about to enter one of its worst-ever eras of work. Long working hours and underpayment of employees slowly became the norm as Japan's economy recovered after the Second World War. The sudden deaths of several workers, ranging from the executive level to wage-paid staff, had become such an indelible part of Japanese work culture that they coined a term for it—'Karoshi', or 'death from overwork'.


There's no denying that the work culture in Japan is demanding. However, this phenomenon is not unique to Japan. According to a Better Life Index survey, the top four countries with the longest working hours are Turkey, Mexico, Colombia, and South Korea. With people in these countries working at least 50 hours a week, the work-life balance conditions are appalling. And that is only the tip of the iceberg.


The world today has been struck with another crisis. With economies falling, inflation rampant, and the rate of unemployment increasing, the pandemic has not been easy for anyone. As businesses transformed digitally, the new wave of mass 'work from home' emerged. Welcomed with open arms, working from home opened the doors to achieving work-life balance. At first glance, it appeared to be the solution to the seemingly endless pressures and stresses caused by overwork. But is working from home truly a blessing?


Research shows that employees working remotely tend to work longer hours and spend more time in meetings. About 70% of them also claim that they work on the weekends due to the pandemic.


The newest report from WHO suggests that working over 55 hours a week is associated with a 35% increased chance of a stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from heart disease compared to those who work for around 35–40 hours a week.


While it may seem like the crisis is in the lap of the gods, things are changing. More and more companies now realise that overly long working hours, particularly during the pandemic, might not be the best for their most valuable assets – their employees.


Take the advertising industry, for example. It was one of the first to be hit as the pandemic raged on. Employees relentlessly worked 12 hours a day and lost all sense of work-life balance. To address this, many ad firms offered paid leaves and even reduced the workweek to 4 days. One could argue that simply recognising employees' deteriorating mental health is a good place to start. Paying heed to their employees' demands, top firms like Facebook have permanently allowed people to work from home.


Despite all of this, the lack of conclusive statistics has made it difficult to truly understand the impact of the pandemic on employees' health. So the question remains: Will Covid-19 impact the 'Karoshi' culture negatively or positively?



Manasi Gadgil is a Content Specialist at Kaam.De. If not playing the guitar, you'll find her immersed in the art of photography. Deeply passionate about writing and travelling, she enjoys all things art.


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