About two or three years ago, my husband worked a grueling shift for nearly two months. He would come home at 3am and then get up and leave at 5:30 am. He lived on two hours of sleep.
Things were so bad, we discussed him quitting and maybe moving to my country where I would seek employment. I watched a confused fog fill his eyes after two weeks of this shift — only one weekends did he get any amount of real sleep — left him mentally drained and finally depressed.
However, I firmly believed the decision would have to be his. I made it clear I would support whatever he chose and we would work through it together. In the end, he wanted to keep his job. He worked very hard to get it and it’s a very good one.
Finally, his schedule returned to a more reasonable one and he’s never been put through anything like that again. His hours have remained as reasonable as a full time job in Japan can be ever since that two month period.
Unfortunately, many other Japanese workers are not so lucky. I read this:
It is an article about Dentsu forcing a female employee to work over a 100 hours of overtime until she finally suffered a mental breakdown and killed herself.
You might say, ‘why not walk away?’.
However, I remember the fog in my husband’s eyes and the confusion that began to set in. I would argue that after working such a grinding schedule, she may not have been in a right state of mind anymore. Go that long without sufficient sleep and it becomes hard to make a clear choice anymore.
(My husband made his final decision after he had a chance to sleep).
On one hand, I am someone who admires hard work. I have worked long hours to accomplish something. I don’t think everything should be about money and how much you make. That said, when companies clearly exploit their employees I think it unacceptable.
My husband is lucky that he does get paid for his overtime, but I’ve heard many horror stories of employees not getting a dime for all that overtime.
Many are afraid to quit right now with the job climate the way it is in Japan. Toshiba is in the process of collapsing and its taking whole communities with it. There is a town that relied on a Toshiba factory for much of its trickle-down economics. When the factory closed, all those workers that used to occupy the Izekaya’s and karaoke bars in the evenings dried up. Now those businesses are going bankrupt as well.
If you succeed in getting into one of the “prized” companies, few are willing to leave. The companies know this, and use it to their advantage.
I don’t know what’s a good solution to all this. It does seem like slowly more and more legislation is being passed to forced companies to stop with the overwork (or “karoshi” which is death from overwork).
We’ll see how it turns out.