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Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Work-style change is the responsibility of everyone

Rika Kayama (Mainichi)

There is growing attention in Japan about "working style." In the process toward passing new work-style reform legislation in the Diet, many have raised their voices in warning.

    The families of those who have lost loved ones to death by overwork have been making speeches at various gatherings, pleading, "Please don't make anyone experience what I have." To those people who have been courageous in stepping forward to make their voices heard, I have nothing but the deepest respect.

    When I ask my students what they think about work-style reform, they often say, "It's best to be able to decide your work style on your own. Isn't a discretionary labor system a good thing as well?" When I reply, "But if that does happen, the upper limit for labor hours will disappear, and you may have to work endlessly until you get the desired result," they say, "I wouldn't do something like that. When I feel tired, I will speedily go home." What they are saying is basically, "A modest salary is fine, and it doesn't matter if I don't advance in my career. That's why I will decide my working hours freely of my own accord and won't work too hard."

    To these students, I tell them that during my own experience as a psychiatrist, there have been many people, no matter how much they were suffering, who found themselves unable to announce that they were going home, and each day worked more and more overtime, were overcome by depression from overwork and other illnesses.

    I point out that when you become a member of a larger organization like a company, you cannot just say things like "I'm going home," or "I quit," and you end up working as much as you humanly can. Even then, my students who have yet to go out into the working world and make their debut as members of society do not quite understand what I am trying to explain to them.

    Isn't that the biggest problem with the way many Japanese people work? Many of the politicians penning the legislation and the business owners conveying their opinions to those lawmakers can say what they want to say and do what they want to do freely. They cannot imagine that there may be workers who are exhausted and worn out but are unable to raise their voices, and even though they have reached their limit, they continue to work in silence.

    In reality, the workers at companies and factories are thinking, "I can't say something selfish. I must work to meet the status quo," and they tend to force themselves to say that everything is fine the way it is. However, employers are unaware of that. If that is the case, then there is no choice but to have board members and those in managerial positions take the lead in adopting a "reasonable work-style," such as eliminating overtime hours and "completely forgetting work during off days and getting enough rest."

    Of course, I would like those students who brightly vow, "No matter what my employer says, I will go home when I want to go home," to continue to maintain that stance even when they go out into the working world. I want to tell those working now to try not to work too hard and wear themselves out as well. Finally, to those in positions of power, I would like them to pay careful attention to their employees, as they could succumb to exhaustion and depression before they realize it. It is the responsibility of people at every level to make efforts to prevent illnesses that stem from overwork. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)

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