“My God, I don’t want to go to work!”
Neither do I and neither do you. On any given morning urban commuter train, how many people would be thinking that? How many would be tweeting it? But one young woman who tweeted it on October 4, 2015, committed suicide two and a half months later. In her case it meant more than mere grumbling. What? asks Shukan Bunshun (Oct 20). Two things, it answers: exhaustion, and power harassment.
Early last Christmas morning, the magazine says, Yukimi Takahashi got an email from her 24-year-old daughter Matsuri: “Work is unbearable. Life is unbearable. Thank you for everything.”
Panicking, Yukimi telephoned: “Dying is not the answer! If it’s that bad, quit the company!” “Okay, mother,” Matsuri replied.
That evening Matsuri Takahashi jumped to her death from her fourth-floor room in the company dorm. Last month, Tokyo’s Labor Standards Inspection Bureau ruled the death a case of "karoshi" (death from overwork) – effectively implicating her employer.
Her employer was Dentsu Inc, Japan’s largest advertising agency. Matsuri joined the company in April 2015, congratulating herself on securing a job with a future. She was a bright, vivacious girl, say those who knew her in high school and beyond, and an excellent student, as you have to be to get into Tokyo University, from whose literature department she graduated before landing what seemed like a dream job.
The first six months – essentially a training period – boded well. The rookies were divided into groups and assigned presentations. Matsuri’s won praise and a prize. She seemed on her way.
In October, says Shukan Bunshun, things turned nasty. The orientation was over. She was a regular employee now, and she soon discovered what that meant – very long hours, enormous pressure, relentless criticism bordering on personal insults. Her department handled Internet advertising. It’s brutal. The client knows exactly how many clicks the ad is getting at any given moment, and it’s never enough. Around that time, too, Dentsu was involved in a dodgy accounting scandal. Apologies followed exposure, reflection followed apologies, and everyone was even more on edge than usual. Understaffing was held to be the main problem, but Matsuri’s department suffered a deep staff cut, from 14 to eight. The work poured in, the hours piled up. One month she worked 105 hours of overtime.
She was very new to the job, and had very little clout. She took to tweeting her frustration: “It’s horrible, horrible, a freshman employee’s lot is no fun at all, I have no time for anything but work, Saturday too... Honestly, I want to die.”
She tweeted comments she was getting from her bosses. Evidently they saw her weakening under the strain. “Of the overtime you put in,” they allegedly told her, “20 hours are useless to the company.” “If you come to meetings looking like you’re half asleep you’re not fit for management.” “Don’t come to work with bloodshot eyes and your hair all over the place.” “If you can’t stand the pace, you’re not up to the job.”
“Clearly,” says psychologist Hideki Wada after analyzing the tweets, “she was overworked and hadn’t been getting enough sleep. It’s quite possible she was suffering from clinical depression.”
That, in brief, is the working life and working death of Matsuri Takahashi. Dentsu’s response to the labor bureau’s "karoshi" finding has been a pledge to limit overtime hours to 65 a month from November. The problem doesn’t, of course, begin and end with Dentsu. According to the labor ministry, nearly a quarter of Japanese firms report at least some employees working more than 80 hours of overtime a month.© Japan Today