Japanese work culture is so stringent that some workers have actually died from karoshi, or chronic overwork. These workers die from heart failure or even suicide, in a culture that can see 100-hour workweeks with very little time off or vacation. While Japan is reportedly trying to loosen that culture to be less toxic for workers, a news story this week shows that the country still has a ways to go. The Guardian and other outlets are reporting that a 64-year old waterworks employee in Kobe “was fined and reprimanded after he was found to have left his desk just three minutes before the start of his designated lunch break.”
The worker left his desk a few minutes early “on 26 occasions over a seven-month period” to go buy a bento box for lunch. Not only that, his bosses “then called a televised news conference, where they described the man’s conduct as ‘deeply regrettable’ and bowed in apology.” Apology to who?
The man was busted by a senior official who saw him heading out to buy his lunch. The worker said he just needed “a change of pace.” The company consequently added up those 78 minutes and docked him a half-day’s pay. In more heartening news, The Guardian notes, last month Japan’s lower house passed a bill to cap “overtime at 100 hours a month” in response to the rising number of people dying of karoshi. Getting docked for a few minutes leave certainly seems to be going against that positive trend.