Death from overwork

Death from overwork
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Death from overwork or in Japanese Karoshi is a phenomenon observed in Japan, but in Europe we also meet with him. This is a socio-medical term. It is related to cases of deaths or serious health problems caused by circulatory-cardiac diseases (e.g. myocardial infarction) due to atherosclerosis and hypertension coupling with very strong work overload. From a medical perspective, in the case of karoshi, the most common are heart attacks and apoplexy.

It is caused by an excessive mental strain related to work and the effort devoted to it, as well as workaholism. This is the effect of a dynamically developing economy, technology, growing demands from the employer, but also in relation to oneself. Morbid ambition and willingness to be the best in the group of associates and appreciated in the eyes of others (victories in the "rat race"). Lack of sleep, irregular breaks for meals, too much coffee and, above all, lack of time to rest and sleep can not remain without a negative health effect. Consequently, instead of successes, lack of concentration, problems with perception and a number of other health problems leading to caroshi. In addition, a workaholic is not a good companion at work, because he often interjects, is over-zealous and that often meets the supervisor's disapproval.

In Japan, yearly about 10 thousand. people die on karoshi, working 12 hours a day. However, these data may be understated several times. Unfortunately, death from overworking is considered a pride in this country, and the family of a deceased person is rewarded with high insurance.

A very well-known case of karoshi is Totsuro Toyoda's disease, who became president of Toyota in 1992 at the age of 63. It was a dramatic moment for the company, Chrysler competitor won the priority, as the cheapest car manufacturer in the world leaving Toyota far behind, and Japan was at the bottom of the recession at the time. Toyoda took up rescuing the company and prepared strategies to combat the crisis, which was ready a year later. The president personally supervised the exit of the company from the recession, controlling the implementation of the previously prepared strategy. The president soon became the president of the Japanese Automobile Manufacturers Association, as it turned out not only honorable, but also difficult and labor-intensive work. On February 25, 1995, Toyoda was hospitalized with symptoms of extreme exhaustion and severe hypertension, and for many years the president of Toyota probably will never come back to work. As it turned out two years earlier, the Vice President of Honda resigned from his position for the same reasons.

Research shows that the problem of karoshi also begins to reach Poland. Many Poles admit that after returning from work, they feel exhausted enough that they are forced to do the simplest homework. Disturbing is the fact that most of those who work immediately after returning from work, turn on the TV or go to sleep at once. This problem in our country, however, is for the most part caused by low earnings and the will to change bad financial situation, although it is certainly not the only reason. Nevertheless, research shows that Poles work the longest in Europe.

Origins and history

The first case of karoshi was recorded in 1969, when suddenly a 29-year-old Japanese employee of the largest Japanese newspaper died. The term karoshi was adopted in 1982 after the publication of three books by the doctors under this title. and when a group of lawyers appointed the National Committee for Caring for Victims of karoshi, helping to see the seriousness of the matter. In the 90s. The 20th century, the karoshi problem gained international recognition by appearing on the jury of the United Nations Human Rights Commission.


The sociological factors, in addition to the excessive number of working hours, causing the syndrome karoshi are:

  • stress,
  • frequent, unexpected business trips,
  • the need to stay after working hours,
  • shift work.

The biggest problem is certainly in Japan, where more than 24 percent. employees work over 60 hours a week.In people overloaded with work and constantly taking overtime, there is an increased secretion of stress hormones, i.e. adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisone. If this condition persists for a long time, then some disease must develop. People who deal with karoshi are those who are challenging, ambitious and who do not see clear signs of drastic overwork.This phenomenon is difficult to detect, but certainly more often affects workaholics - ie people usually urgent, perfect. People who are uncertain of themselves and their values, withdrawn from the environment, who are apprehensive about their talent, are also exposed to death from overwork.


The symptoms of karoshi so practically no - unexpectedly affect people in full health, in a period of high activity. The data show that in Japan, up to 30,000 people die each year from overwork. Japanese. All cases of death from overworking concerned people who were overly working and were under constant and severe stress. Karoshi usually affects people who work more than 60 hours a week, have unused more than half of their vacation and take more than 50 overtime a month. Mostly, he meets people of success. One of the victims of karoshi became the prime minister of Japan - Keizo Obuchi. In Japanese society, karoshi is a kind of fashion and a determinant of success. Having someone close to you who is threatened by karoshi is trendy.

More and more cases in European countries

It is not only in Japan that the karoshi problem arises. More and more Poles are turning into corporate robots, working beyond their strength. Death syndrome from overwork began to be so alarming that in Europe it was decided to take care of employees. Companies such as IBM, Procter & Gamble, Mars and Google have introduced many solutions to promote healthy lifestyle among employees, such as healthy snacks served during breaks at work, yoga or gymnastics. In some companies, rooms have been separated in which the employee can rest and take a nap for a moment or use a relaxing massage. And all this in order to minimize the intensity of serious physiological consequences of excessive overloading with work and stress. In Poland, no one keeps such statistics, but how to treat, for example, the case of a 52-year-old anesthesiologist from Głubczyce, who died in the hospital during the fifth day in a row, but previously had a three-day break after an uninterrupted seven days? Superhuman effort did not endure the body. Unfortunately, lately karoshi is being spoken and written more often in Polish. It is hardly surprising, since 41 percent. managers spend 9 to 10 hours a day in the office. However, as much as 9 percent. he admits to work after 11-15 hours a day. It is similar in all professional groups. According to the Central Statistical Office, most full-time employees work from 40 to 49 hours a week. Those who spend at least 50 hours in the office, factory or workshop are around 14 percent. To be called workaholics, especially those who spend at least 60 hours a week on work.


However, the government started to fight with karoshi and overwork. The new law obliges the Japanese to use the whole of their 18.5 day paid leave (so far, the majority took half of it).

The HR24 portal, monitoring the Polish labor market, has recently carried out research showing that almost half of Poles work more than 50 hours a week. Excessive stress translates into frustration and stress, which are the easiest way to burn out, which in turn can reduce employee productivity even to zero. On the other hand, the corporate culture in my company imposes such a long working time. All managers spend 70, 80 hours a week here. It is especially important that the employer be aware of the negative consequences of overworking and prevent it in an appropriate way (by organizing, for example, training or workshops), investing in the health of employees with a view to the effectiveness of the entire company.

According to the estimates of the International Labor Organization, on average every 15 seconds, work kills one person. Every year, 321,000 employees die in the world as a result of accidents and more than 2,000,000 die from occupational diseases.

Not just adults

However, it turns out that excessive workload is a problem that affects children in many countries. Exceptional ambitions of parents, unrealistic requirements on examinations mean that children have to go to additional classes, complementary classes. The effect is easy to predict - loss of health, nervous breakdown, depression, disgust at school, and even suicide attempts when it turns out that you are not perfect, outstanding and extremely talented.