In 2020, around 300 students will be graduating from Eagle Rock High School. They’ll be going off to college and entering the next chapter of their lives. Ultimately, after many lectures, classes, and points accumulated, they’ll find a job and join the endless workforce. Americans work over 1,700 hours a year, physically– and mentally– burning out to meet the needs of their jobs and sustain their lives. Overworking has truly become an epidemic, not only in America but around the world where many countries are dealing with the repercussions of the weight of the work on everyone’s shoulders, including cases of suicide, depression, and burnout. And just like any epidemic if let unsolved, overworking will plunge families, companies, economies, and countries into a hole they can’t climb out of.
In the beginning weeks of January, a frenzy of news and commotion hit Finland. It appeared as if the entire country was talking about the idea of “a four-day working week.” The news of dramatically shortening the working hours in this Nordic nation was initially picked up by several mainstream media outlets. Everywhere, especially on Facebook and Instagram, the idea was welcomed and relieved workers turned a blind eye to the impossibility of the news. But, this utopia was sadly too good to be true and Finland’s government was quick to deny the claims. The Asia Floor Wage Alliance fact-checked the news to be false, claiming that Prime Minister Sanna Marin had discussed it in the past but that no action had been taken. As per an Associated Press news report, Marin said that "A four-day working week or a six-hour working day with a sufficient pay may be utopia today, but it may become reality in the future." But the important question isn’t about what Marin plans to do in the future, it’s about the core question beneath this entire debacle. Are we so overworked that an entire nation convinced themselves that they’d be working less, despite any official confirmation? This situation just proved the desperation and tiredness that is felt worldwide by workers and how they’d truly jump at any chance to work less.
Finland isn’t the only country where overworking has become a problem. In Indonesia, nearly 300 people died in 2019 after the world’s biggest single-day election, and not because of civil unrest, but because of exhaustion. 272 election staff collapsed because of fatigue after 10 days of working with no breaks. 1,878 people also fell ill according to the General Elections Commission spokesperson. 150 million people in Indonesia– around 80 percent of the country– showed up to the polls. Multiply that by 5 ballot papers that each person could punch out, and you have around 750 million ballots that need to be counted–all by hand. The government claims they’ll be able to compensate the families of the deceased, but no amount of money will make up for the loss they have experienced. If anything, the government should be discussing the impending issue of overworking people instead of giving the deceased family members large amounts of money to mourn silently and never speak of the matter in question.
Overworking is horrifically common in places like Japan, they’ve even coined a term for it– karoshi. Karoshi means sudden death by cardiac arrest or suicide of an employee after working for more than 80-100 hours a month. In 2017, 92 people in Japan died from a heart attack due to overworking and 98 workers committed suicide, according to the labor ministry. Japan claims they’re trying to shift this cultural expectation, having, for example, companies blast the Rocky theme song at 6 pm to encourage people to leave on time. But all these reports are just a couple instances, out of thousands, that the government is oblivious to or has chosen to /overlook. The real number of deaths is estimated to be much higher and it’s sickening to see that even in 2020, the statistics haven’t been dropped much either. Grieving families everywhere are trying to trigger national debates in Japan to raise attention to the karoshi problem. Miwa Sado, who died a few years back because of overworking, shed light on the situation, especially after her parents commented saying, “Even today, four years on, we cannot accept our daughter’s death as a reality. We hope that the sorrow of a bereaved family will not be wasted.”
The ultimate goal that people possess in life is to make money and be successful. And the work-orientated society we have now created just proves and reinforces that. Without working to our very last brink, it seems impossible that we’d be able to sustain ourselves and our world, but in reality, the true things that shape us are our families, friends, and hobbies, things that work steals so much time away from. We are defined by this toxic work culture, and it only seems to be getting worse. All we do in this society is to consume and consume and consume, never satisfied with what we already have. In order to keep up, now all we do is produce and produce, trapped in this never-ending cycle of toxicity. We may need to work to survive, but to be physically and emotionally happy is what is truly valuable.