Labor officials in Japan have concluded that a 31-year-old political reporter died from heart failure caused by spending long hours on the job. Miwa Sado had worked 159 hours of overtime in the month before her death. Excessive hours are such a big problem that there’s even a Japanese word for death by overwork: karoshi. What is the effect on employee engagement in the region? Dismal.
The Asia Pacific region has the highest level of employee disengagement globally, with 89% of workers claiming to not be engaged. Although there are varying theories as to why this is, I believe a huge factor is the fact that in Asia, your opinion does not matter. Period. The boss is God and he demands worship, not collaboration. The boss makes the decisions, then the employees execute his orders. End of story. Employees have zero input on the larger strategic issues of the company, which I believe is incredibly demoralizing.
When I spoke in Malaysia this year, I too, noticed this phenomenon. No one in the audience asked a question or commented on my presentation because employees have been taught that they do not have a voice and it’s unacceptable to speak up. Interestingly, though, I was approached by a lot of people in private who wanted to ask a question or comment on my speech. This tells me that people are eager to speak up, but it is not culturally acceptable.
Japan, known for its punishing work hours, has struggled for years to tackle the impact of overwork on employees’ health. A government study published last year found that one in five workers is at risk of working themselves to death. Unfortunately, for millions of Japanese employees, they think if they clear away their desk and make it home in time for dinner, they will be accused of disloyalty. Right or wrong, it’s their culture – how we do things here – and is unlikely to change any time soon.
BE AWESOME! As a leader, it’s your responsibility to be a role model. As you are reading this, I’m on a beach vacation, as I understand the importance of taking time off to recharge one’s battery. Take every vacation day allotted to you and encourage your employees to do the same. If your company or peers vacation-shame you when you submit a time off request, it might be time to look for a new job. Find a company that’s a better cultural fit, and focuses more on rewarding people who get the job done vs. people who spend the most hours in the office.
Jill Christensen is an employee engagement expert, best-selling author, and international keynote speaker. She was recently named a Top 100 Global Employee Engagement Influencer, authored the best-selling book, If Not You, Who? Cracking the Code of Employee Disengagement, and works with the best and brightest global leaders to improve productivity and retention, customer satisfaction, and revenue growth. Jill can be reached at +1.303.999.9224 or firstname.lastname@example.org.