Thursday, July 10, 2008

Toyota Man Died Of Overwork

Photo credit: Luxomedia

Saw this piece of news on Yahoo Singapore this morning. An engineer working on Camry hybrid has died of "karoshi", which in Japanese means literally, death from fatigue due to overwork.

The victim, whose name, had been witheld by Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) was said to have clocked 80 hours of overtime per month in the two months leading to his death.

TMC has stated officially that it will improve it's monitoring of it's employees health.

Japanese society which place a lot of emphasis on values like working hard and placing team before self, karoshi has been a growing trend in the official records for the past few decades since early 90s.

I remembered a chat several years ago with a TMC employee from product development. I was told that the company has started then to limit overtime work by monitoring individual employees' working hours.

Employees were required to clock in and out on a daily basis so that their bosses, and sometime corporate HR, could monitor the number of hours worked. Employees who wished to perform overtime work has to get approval from his/her superior!

Being the worker bees that they are, TMC employees were known to circumvent the system. For instance, an employee starting work at 10:30 am under the flexi-hour scheme, would report to work earlier at 8:00am but clock-in at 10:30am. So on paper, it looked as if he/she reported to work on time whereas in fact, this employee has already performed 2.5hrs overtime.

Similarly, employees were also known to clock-off on time but stayed behind to work. As there was simply too much work to do, the bosses tend to be more lenient when it comes to enforcing the overtime limit.

Letting the employees bring the work home to limit overtime work was not a viable option because of the sensitive and confidential work information that the employees were handling.

It blew my mind when I heard this. Throughout my work life, it is usual to know of colleagues who were late but got their colleagues to clock-in on time for them to aviod a pay deduction penalty. In Algeria, truancy was so rampant that the company had to install a fingerprint scanning system for employee clock-in & out!

It is extremely rare to learn of employees who perform more overtime than they should and let it go unreported, considering that working harder is good for performance evaluation. Only in Japan!

The Japanese worker is an epitome of the selfless, dedicated samurai who places his/her team above all else. Stubborn and anal retentive, yes, but nevertheless responsible and dependable. Of course, I do personally know of exceptional cases but it's a valid generalization.

During business trips in Japan, I could experienced several very brief stints of the nerve-wrecking, high pressurizing work culture there. I really hope that major Japanese companies could really review the work environment and work curcumstances in the interest of their employees' health, social and family life.


By JAY ALABASTER, Associated Press WriterWed Jul 9, 4:08

A Japanese labor bureau has ruled that one of Toyota's top car
engineers died from working too many hours, the latest in a string of such
findings in a nation where extraordinarily long hours for some employees has
long been the norm.

The man who died was aged 45 and had been under severe
pressure as the lead engineer in developing a hybrid version of Toyota's
blockbuster Camry line, said Mikio Mizuno, the lawyer representing his wife. The
man's identity is being withheld at the request of his family, who continue to
live in Toyota City where the company is based.

In the two months up to his death, the man averaged more than
80 hours of overtime per month, according to Mizuno.

He regularly worked nights and weekends, was frequently sent
abroad and was grappling with shipping a model for the pivotal North American
International Auto Show in Detroit when he died of ischemic heart disease in
January 2006. The man's daughter found his body at their home the day before he
was to leave for the United States.

The ruling was handed down June 30 and will allow his family
to collect benefits from his work insurance, Mizuno said.

An officer at the Aichi Labor Bureau on Wednesday confirmed
the ruling, but declined to comment on the record.

In a statement, Toyota Motor Corp. offered its condolences and
said it would work to improve monitoring of the health of its

There is an effort in Japan to cut down on deaths from
overwork, known as "karoshi." Such deaths have steadily increased since the
Health Ministry first recognized the phenomenon in 1987.

Last year, a court in central Japan ordered the government to
pay compensation to Hiroko Uchino, the wife of a Toyota employee who collapsed
at work and died at age 30 in 2002. She took the case to court after her
application to the local labor bureau for compensation was

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