Updated on 30 April 2019, at 6:49 p.m.
In 2017, a 31-year-old Japanese journalist became the center of the news worldwide; Miwa Sado, who was found dead in her apartment in July 2013, was ruled to have died of heart failure after logging a total of 306 hours of overtime in two consecutive months.
Reports have further elaborated that Sado’s heart had grown so weak it could no longer pump enough blood to circulate in her body—primarily caused by accumulated fatigue and chronic sleep deprivation. With this, authorities have officially declared her demise as a repercussion of overworking.
In Japan, working for punishingly long hours has become a norm. Whether it is demanded or expected of employees, the toxic work culture is disturbingly rampant that a term was coined to refer to it: karoshi—or literally, death by overwork. What makes this phenomenon all the more menacing is its existence which can be traced as far back as 1969.
Half a century after, karoshi continues to take away lives so abruptly that most individuals who died of it were reported to have had no previous sign of any illness.
Suicide cases related to work issues have also risen over the past few years. In 2015, another Japanese employee in her mid-20s named Matsuri Takahashi jumped to her death from her dormitory after having been forced to render overtime in an advertising agency. Before the tragic incident, which took place on Christmas Day, there were already insinuations of Takahashi’s gruelling state at work. On social media, Takahashi was reported to have posted: “I want to die[…] I’m physically and mentally shattered.”
Death by overwork, though mostly associated with Japanese employees, has also been reported in other Asian countries like China (termed as ‘Guolaosi’) and South Korea (termed as ‘Gwarosa’).
For all we know, despite the difference in terms, people have become so used to overworking—so much so that this phenomenon is no longer a region-wide predicament, but a global concern.
Overwork in the guise of professionalism
The line between being professional and getting overworked is often thin and blurry. Going above and beyond the call of duty is usually commended, oblivious of the health hazards it entails.
On March 9, 2019, Filipino comedian Jonathan Aguilar Garcia—popularly known as Chokoleit—passed away. The news came as a surprise, in relation to his performance for a show in Abra just hours before his passing. But in a video that immediately made its rounds online, Chokoleit already seemed running out of breath while doing his comedic stint.
Reports have revealed that the comedian has suffered from pulmonary edema, a condition in which the lungs are filled with fluid that causes respiratory failure, or worse, a cardiac arrest.
The show went on. His life did not. And while many were quick to eulogize Chokoleit’s perseverance, this is yet another case of death by overwork—in the guise of ‘just doing the job.’ This begs the question: could his untimely death been prevented if he stopped the performance?
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