The president of Japan’s advertising giant Dentsu has resigned after a junior employee committed suicide because she was forced to work too many hours in overtime.
CEO Tadashi Ishii, whose company employs 47,000 people and operates in 140 countries, became a target of backlash following the suicide of 24-year-old Matsuri Takahashi on Christmas 2015.
Investigators found that Takahashi was forced to work about 105 hours of overtime a month and the punishing workload resulted in her jumping to her death.
Before her suicide, Takahashi told friends on Twitter about suffering from harassment and grueling work hours.
“They’re making me work Saturdays and Sundays again,” she wrote in one post. “I seriously want to end it all.”
“It’s 4 a.m. My body’s trembling,” she said in another. “I’m going to die. I’m so tired.”
Ishii’s stepped down from his position after investigators raided his office.
“We deeply regret failing to prevent the overwork of our new recruit,” Ishii said at a press conference. “I offer a sincere apology to the bereaved family and everyone in society.”
Deaths from overwork are so common in Japan that it has its own name: “karoshi.”
Japan is known for its brutal work hours, which are considered to be the reason for the country’s rapid economic expansion after World War II. However, that is no longer the case.
In 2015, among the 34 member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Japan recorded an average of 1,719 hours per worker — a number that surpassed 1,371 hours in Germany, 1,482 hours in France and 1,674 hours in Britain and made it the country which worked the third-longest hours.
Despite that, it was ranked as having the worst productivity of the G-7 nations last year, according to the Japan Productivity Center.
“Japan is still a country where working long hours is considered a virtue,” said Kazunari Tamaki, a lawyer who specializes in karoshi. “But we need to focus on improving efficiency within fixed hours to boost productivity.”
More than 23 percent of Japanese companies said monthly overtime per worker exceeded 80 hours resulting in an increased risk of death.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is starting to seriously seek ways to curb the work burden placed on employees with a “work-style reform” panel. The reform will place strict penalties on companies who overwork their employees and disclose names of companies with deaths from overwork. It would also crackdown on unpaid overtime.
But Japan’s aging population and reluctance to allow immigrants still leaves the country short of labor and it could put pressure on future workers.
As for Dentsu, it has announced that it would switch off all lights at 10 p.m. and order employees to take vacations regularly.
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