A few years ago, labor officials in Japan 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. 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 has the final say 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 speak in Asia, I too, notice this phenomenon. Audience members do not ask questions or comment on my presentation because they have been taught that it’s unacceptable to speak up. Interestingly, though, I am approached by people in private who want to ask a question or share. 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 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.
JILL, WHAT CAN I DO? Be a role model – the world is opening its doors once again. As you are reading this, I’m on my way home from Las Vegas and Palm Springs, 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 majority of their time working.