Please view the main text area of the page by skipping the main menu.

70% of Japan's junior high teachers crossing 'death by overwork' danger line: survey

Nagoya University graduate school professor Ryo Uchida, center, explains the working conditions of teachers as long work hours have become a problem, at the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology in Tokyo on May 13, 2022. (Mainichi/Yongho Lee)

TOKYO -- Over 70% of junior high school teachers in Japan are putting in more than 80 hours of overtime per month -- the threshold for determining death by overwork, results of an independent survey show.

    The survey conducted by researchers including Ryo Uchida, a professor at Nagoya University's graduate school, also found that one in three elementary school teachers who reported working 40 hours or more per week said they had been asked by their managers and others to underreport their work hours.

    "The effects of long working hours fall on children. This is a social problem," Uchida said.

    A separate 2016 survey on teachers' working conditions conducted by the education ministry found that around 30% of elementary school teachers and 60% of teachers at junior high schools worked more than 80 hours of overtime per month.

    In their latest survey conducted in November 2021, Uchida and the other researchers targeted registered online survey participants and received responses from 924 teachers aged from their 20s to 50s working full-time at public elementary and junior high schools. The respondents were asked what times they arrived at and left work during a specific week, and how many hours they spent on take-home work, among other questions.

    The survey found that 74.4% of junior high school teachers were doing more than 80 hours of overtime per month. Overall, a total of 66.9% of teachers reported working 20 or more hours of overtime during the week -- effectively crossing the line for determining death by overwork, or "karoshi" in Japanese. In addition, 18.1% of junior high school teachers and 10.8% of elementary school teachers worked 40 overtime hours or more per week. Moreover, at both elementary and junior high schools, around half of all surveyed teachers said they had "zero" break time.

    The survey also uncovered rampant demands from managerial staff for teachers to underreport their work hours. When questioned if they had been asked to rewrite their work records to make it appear as if they had worked less overtime during the past two years, 16.6% of respondents replied that they had. When restricted to teachers who worked 40 or more hours of overtime in a week, 32.7% of elementary school teachers and 24.4% of junior high school teachers said they had received such requests. In addition, 43% of elementary school teachers said they "do not accurately report" their weekend work hours.

    Responses to questions on the teachers' desire to work found that the greater the amount of overtime they did, the more anxious they felt. Among teachers who did 40 or more hours of overtime work per week, 81.9% responded in near agreement with the questionnaire statement, "I'm anxious about whether I'm able to detect bullying early," and 70.1% with the statement, "I go to classes without sufficient preparation."

    Commenting on the reasons for underreported work hours, Uchida cited a 2019 revision to the law on the work conditions and salaries of educational staff, which restricts overtime to 45 hours per month. He said another aim of underreporting long work hours is to avoid meetings with industrial physicians.

    "With stricter guidance now in place with time management, take-home work is also increasing. They have to increase the number of workers and reduce the amount of work or do something like outsource it," Uchida said.

    (Japanese original by Yongho Lee, Tokyo City News Department)

    Also in The Mainichi

    The Mainichi on social media