The Employee Factor blog has a great post about the Japanese word Karoshi:
“Death by overwork” or karoshi (Kah-roe-she) is killing the Japanese Manager in his prime. How? Marathon hours at work lead to heart failure and brain bleeds.
We’re talking a lot of overtime. Maybe 100 hours of overtime as estimated by an expert on karoshi.
Take a moment to take that in.
Imagine death from overwork being so common in Japan, that there is actually a word for it. From the Wikipedia entry on Karoshi:
The first case of karōshi was reported in 1969 with the death from a stroke of a 29-year-old male worker in the shipping department of Japan’s largest newspaper company.
It was not until the latter part of the 1980s, during the Bubble Economy, however, when several high-ranking business executives who were still in their prime years suddenly died without any previous sign of illness, that the media began picking up on what appeared to be a new phenomenon.
This new phenomenon was quickly labeled karōshi and was immediately seen as a new and serious menace for people in the work force. In 1987, as public concern increased, the Japanese Ministry of Labour began to publish statistics on karōshi.
As you may know I’m Danish, and I take pride in the fact that there is no word for Karoshi in Danish. Instead we have a very different word: arbejdsglæde. Arbejde means work, glæde means happiness so arbejdsglæde simply means happiness at work.
And in case you’re wondering how that little sucker of a tongue-twister is pronounced, you can hear me explain it a little more here:
The word arbejdsglæde and how to pronounce it. (2 Mb mp3 file, 2 minutes).
This word exists only in the Scandinavian languages (I’ve checked!) and this is not a coincidence. Nordic business culture has a decades-long tradition of focusing on the well-being of employees.
UPDATE: Apparently it exists in Dutch as well. Thank you to Virgil for pointing that out.
Vocabulary matters. It says something about Japanese vs. Scandinavian business cultures that we have arbejdsglæde and they have karoshi.
And I have absolutely no doubt which culture is more likely to make people happy and to create great workplaces.