FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Health Consequences of Overwork

Working for long periods under extreme stressful work conditions can lead to sudden death. “Burn out” is now described as an occupational phenomenon, resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.

This is a phenomenon that in its most extreme manifestation is described by the Japanese as karõshi, literally translated as “death from overwork,” or occupational sudden death, mainly from a heart attack and stroke due to stress. Karõshi has been more widely studied in Japan, where the first case of this phenomenon was reported in 1969.

In 1987, as people’s concerns about karõshi increased, the Japanese Ministry of Labor began to publish statistics on the problem. According to government estimates, 200 people die from overwork annually because of the long hours spent at the workplace.

Death by overwork lawsuits have been on the rise in Japan, prompted by the deceased’s relatives demanding compensation payments. In Japan, if karõshi is considered a cause of death, surviving family members may receive compensation from the government and up to $1 million from the responsible company in damages.

Extension of the phenomenon

This phenomenon is not limited to Japan. Other Asian nations such as China, South Korea and Bangladesh have reported similar incidents. In China, where the phenomenon is called guolaosi, it was estimated in 2010 that 600,000 people had died this way.

Increasingly, workers in more than 126,000 Chinese factories are organizing and demanding better work conditions. In South Korea, where the work ethic is Confucian-inspired, and work usually involves six-day workweeks with long hours, the phenomenon is called gwarosa.

In the United States, workers in some areas such as banking and finance work extremely long hours, despite its obvious negative consequence. A 2018 survey by The Physicians

Foundation states that 80 percent of physicians across all specialties report being at full capacity or overextended and 78 percent report experiencing feelings of burnout.

Causes and consequences

The causes and consequences of karoshi have been studied in particular by Japan’s National Defense Council for Victims of Karoshi, established in 1988. Japan has much longer working hours that any other developed country. The country’s grueling work schedule has been suggested as one of the main causes of karoshi. It is not, however, the only cause.

A growing body of evidence indicates that workers in high-demand situations who have little control of their work and low social support are at increased risk of developing and dying of cardiovascular disease, including myocardial infarction and stroke. Stressful work conditions are a critical component of this phenomenon. In this regard, it has been found that workers exposed to long overtime periods show markedly elevated levels of stress hormones.

The consequences of long working hours and stressful situations at work are not limited to men. Several studies have shown strong links between women with stressful jobs and cardiovascular disease. In the Women’s Health Study (WHS) — a landmark study involving 17,000 female health professionals — a group of Harvard researchers found that women whose work is highly stressful have a 40 percent increased risk of heart disease compared with their less stressed colleagues.

The results of the WHS were confirmed both in Denmark and in China. A large 15-year study conducted in Denmark found that the greater the work pressure, the higher the risk for heart disease among women under the age of 52. In Beijing, a study among white-collar workers found that job strain was associated in women with increased thickness of the carotid artery wall.

Moving forward

Death by overwork affects not only the families themselves who may lose the main breadwinner in the family but also the industries as a result of lawsuits and lost productivity. That, in turn, affects the national economy. It is therefore urgent to devise ways to curb this problem.

It is important for workers to get regular exercise, which will reduce anxiety and depression and improve sleep. Whenever possible, they should practice relaxation techniques and, if they feel overwhelmed by their personal situation, seek help from a mental health professional.

At the industrial level, organizations should provide the workers with the best conditions for their work, a policy that may look expensive but that will be of better economic value in the long run. Business executives should realize that it is counterproductive for them to place excessive demands on their workers.

At the government level, legislation should be passed to increase job security and skill training as well as employee’s participation in issues that directly affect them such as transfers and promotions. Workers who have better control of their jobs will increase productivity and suffer less from the stressful component of their jobs. In the long run, prevention is the more humane and cheapest alternative to a very serious social and public health problem.

More articles by:

Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
July 16, 2019
Conn Hallinan
The World Needs a Water Treaty
Kenneth Surin
Britain Grovels: the Betrayal of the British Ambassador
Christopher Ketcham
This Land Was Your Land
Gary Leupp
What Right Has Britain to Seize an Iranian Tanker Off Spain?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Democratic Virtues in Electing a President
Thomas Knapp
Free Speech Just isn’t That Complicated
Binoy Kampmark
The Resigning Ambassador
Howard Lisnoff
Everybody Must Get Stoned
Nicky Reid
Nukes For Peace?
Matt Johnson
The United States of Overreaction
Cesar Chelala
Children’s Trafficking and Exploitation is a Persistent, Dreary Phenomenon
Martin Billheimer
Sylvan Shock Theater
July 15, 2019
David Altheide
The Fear Party
Roger Harris
UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Bachelet’s Gift to the US: Justifying Regime Change in Venezuela
John Feffer
Pyongyang on the Potomac
Vincent Kelley
Jeffrey Epstein and the Collapse of Europe
Robert Fisk
Trump’s Hissy-Fit Over Darroch Will Blow a Chill Wind Across Britain’s Embassies in the Middle East
Binoy Kampmark
Juggling with the Authoritarians: Donald Trump’s Diplomatic Fake Book
Dean Baker
The June Jobs Report and the State of the Economy
Michael Hudson – Bonnie Faulkner
De-Dollarizing the American Financial Empire
Kathy Kelly
Remnants of War
B. Nimri Aziz
The Power of Our Human Voice: From Marconi to Woods Hole
Elliot Sperber
Christianity Demands a Corpse 
Weekend Edition
July 12, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Skull of Death: Mass Media, Inauthentic Opposition, and Eco-Existential Reality in a Pre-Fascist Age of Appeasement
T.J. Coles
“Strategic Extremism”: How Republicans and Establishment Democrats Use Identity Politics to Divide and Rule
Rob Urie
Toward an Eco-Socialist Revolution
Gregory Elich
How Real is the Trump Administration’s New Flexibility with North Korea?
Jason Hirthler
The Journalists Do The Shouting
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Pâté Politics in the Time of Trump and Pelosi
Andrew Levine
The Electoral Circus as the End of Its Initial Phase Looms
David Swanson
Earth Over the Brink
Ron Jacobs
Presidential Papers
Robert Hunziker
The Flawed Food Dependency
Dave Lindorff
Defeating the Trump Administration’s Racist, Republican-Rescuing Census Corruption
Martha Rosenberg
Pathologizing Kids, Pharma Style
Kathleen Wallace
Too Horrible to Understand, Too Horrible to Ignore
Ralph Nader
An Unsurpassable Sterling Record of Stamina!
Paul Tritschler
Restricted View: the British Legacy of Eugenics
John Feffer
Trump’s Bluster Diplomacy
Thomas Knapp
Did Jeffrey Epstein “Belong to Intelligence?”
Nicholas Buccola
Colin Kaepernick, Ted Cruz, Frederick Douglass and the Meaning of Patriotism
P. Sainath
It’s Raining Sand in Rayalaseema
Charles Davis
Donald Trump’s Fake Isolationism
Michael Lukas
Delisting Wolves and the Impending Wolf Slaughter
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Shaking Off Capitalism for Ecological Civilization
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail