Karoshi vs. arbejdsgl

KaroshiThe 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 kar?shi 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 kar?shi 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 kar?shi.

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.

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16 thoughts on “Karoshi vs. arbejdsgl”

  1. Just the perfect post to read after having spent the night writing a paper :-D

    This is not my usual habit, but sometimes it happens…

    Anyway, the word for arbejdsgl

  2. Love your blog. I just started working at a Japanese company here in Osaka and I never knew about the word “karoshi”. It’s true about the crazy overtime though.

    BTW. Just thought you’d like to know that your blog seems to be infested with spam links. Turn off CSS styling and you’ll see them at the top. (or view source)

  3. Alebegoli: Hey – as long as it’s not every night, right?

    Ian: Thanks for the kind words. And thanks for telling me about the spam links – somehow the header part of my WordPress template had a function that included those. I have no idea how that got in there, but I’ve removed them now.

  4. I mentioned this to a few co-workers the other day when talking about work stress, etc.: America is the only place I’ve ever heard people tell others, “You need to learn to relax.” So sad relaxing has to be learned.

  5. Hov about the phrase “God arbejdslyst”, which kinda translate to “have a nice time enjoying your work” :) (i’m not sure if it’s unique or anything)

  6. Sobering post, Alexander. I feel sad that we in America don’t have a word/concept that describes the radical notion of happiness at work. If we did, many therapists and drug companies would be out of work.

  7. Alex,

    I love it! Out of curiosity, does arbejdsglaede contemplate happiness from tasks (as in the word “flow”) or is it broader to also include happiness from relationships at work?

  8. Mark: Yeah – learning to relax does seem like a weird proposition.

    VIrgil: Really? That’s excellent! Just goes to show how similar Danish culture is to Dutch.

    Nichlas: Great point – I haven’t seen that phrase in any other language either. Thanks!

    Deb: Well if VW can get fahrvergn

  9. Would this concept be similar to the Western Type A Personality?

    It seems to be that it is.

    Would appreciate what others think.

  10. Pingback: Arbejdsgl

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