Article: Karoshi or Guolaosi – The most notorious workplace challenge!

Corporate Wellness Programs

Karoshi or Guolaosi – The most notorious workplace challenge!

What business leaders and HR must learn from the menace of ‘death from overwork’ in Japan and China; and how can this be proactively solved at workplaces in India and the APAC region?
Karoshi or Guolaosi – The most notorious workplace challenge!

Yes, death from overwork is real and the Japanese have coined a word for it ‘ Karoshi’. Overwork is a reality in offices in many countries. China too has a Mandarin word for it named as ‘Guolaosi’ as deaths from overwork are a real common occurrence in Chinese factories.

While no direct link has been found between overwork and death, psychologists from various countries are collectively in favor of the indirect links that lead to such fatal condition. The latest victim of this phenomenon was a 31-year-old journalist Miwa Sado who reportedly worked overtime for 159 hours in a month with just two days of break. As a result she collapsed due to heart failure and this death was later declared in Japan as karoshi. 

In India, the Factories Act puts a restriction on the number of working hours aiming to safeguard at least some percentage of the population. However, in reality, the majority of the workforce continues to cross the number of weekly hours much beyond 48 hours a week. A 2016 study by Manpower Group showed that Indian millennials work 52 hours a week, the highest globally. Added to the woes, Indians are one of the most vacation deprived communities as per Expedia. 60 percent Indians feel that they don’t have time to take off on a vacation--thanks to technology that is adding to the menace by dissolving all boundaries of work and personal life. Hence, it is high time that leaders and HR professionals must start measuring the aspect of such huge losses as against the merit of hard work and commitment of working longer hours. 

Here are five simple steps that are most likely to help companies and employees solve this menace collectively.

1. The art of prioritization and time management

‘Either you run the day, or the day runs you’ says Jim Rohn - the famous American entrepreneur, author, and motivational speaker. He was a big believer in the power of self-discipline when it comes to managing self and time at home and in business. One of the major causes of burnout at work is when employees are not able to manage time and prioritize tasks. Help your workforce in developing prioritization skills. Conduct short capsule courses that will help in integrating time management tools and techniques in their everyday life. 

2. Creative and simple wellness interventions

HR leaders can create employee wellness strategies and health promotion ideas to bring in a culture of wellness in your organization that can reduce the effect of such burnout. Not surprisingly, there isn’t an option left but to make appropriate investments when it comes to planning, designing, and implementing wellness initiatives. Some simple ones can be a walking meeting, standing desks, zumba classes, on-site gym, yoga and meditation, desk-based exercise sessions and many more. By embedding wellness initiatives, one can help to reduce the health hazards that overwork can bring for the workforce.

3. Technology break sessions

Turning off technology based distractions can bring a manifold impact on the productivity index and help to manage work much better. Unnecessary emails, social media, and an extensive use of unnecessary tools in the smart phones not only create unimaginable workload but also end up being a direct source of health problems. It never allows the mind to stay calm and relaxed. The inner urge to seek for tech tools needs to be tackled by developing technology break time zones in office as well as in personal space. Create a diary wherein you allocate a time for using technology for social satisfaction. Write a schedule of checking your count of phone usage. Allot a specific time that is dedicated to carry such distractions. For the rest of the day, you may want to keep your mobile phone a bit out of your reach.

4. Continuous feedback system

It is imperative to acknowledge the fact that due to work pressure we often tend to undermine the value of feedback. All communication system takes a toll when not followed properly. Encourage employees to give feedback when it comes to concerns related to work-life balance. Have employee communication sessions wherein your workforce expresses their concerns related to possible burnouts in the past or current situations. With regular town halls, weekly meetings and pulse survey results, leaders can proactively gauge the situation and make necessary amendments accordingly.

5. Culture shift

Rather than supporting employees for working longer duration, help them to work smarter and figure out ways to get things done faster. Many companies value the concept of sitting late at office to prove their efficiency level. The measure of productivity and efficiency is not necessarily defined by the number of working hours. This is a deadly environment that constantly puts pressure on employees to a much larger extent. Leaders need to understand such long term nuances and quickly move towards a meritocratic culture that values efficiency and smart work. Use of automated tools, better productivity measurement system and coaching can bring in the much needed change for the betterment of the workforce and the company. 

In short, ‘burnout’ is an occupational phenomenon, resulting from chronic workplace stress that has never been successfully managed well by leaders. To top it up, constant responding to emails, an urge to click on to social media platforms and a strong quench to keep one’s mind fully loaded is making the trouble become a norm; thus having a fatal effect on mind and body. Hence, it’s time to join hands and collaboratively address the rising concern in a structured way and hopefully we can fight back this notorious workplace devil of ‘death by overwork’.

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Topics: Corporate Wellness Programs, #TotalRewards

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