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back to index backGLOBALtalk June,  2005


Workaholism in Asia

Although workaholism may be the subject of much mirth and humour - in reality, it is not a joke. This is because it affects the efficiency and productivity of the companies in which the workaholics are found. Contrary to most expectations, true workaholics are not usually productive workers - they are often people who work very hard for a poor productivity return. Because the productivity of the true workaholic falls over time, the productivity of the company also slips. And this affects the bottom line. If workaholism is widespread in a company, then the cumulative effect the bottom line can be disastrous - and all the while, on the whole working team is apparently working harder and harder.

Hard work and workaholism distinguished

The mere fact an employee is working hard or working for long hours is not, in itself, an example of workaholism. We want employees to work hard and, where necessary, for long hours. What becomes the problem is where this work pattern is sustained over a long period of time. The process of work itself - not the positive results of work - becomes the stimulus and reward for the worker. Therefore, when the workaholic employee's efficiency drops, he/she just works harder for yet longer hours and still feels good about it. The worker is the last to see the problem because he/she is addicted to work. The company finds it hard to identify the problem because the company - wrongly - thinks the workaholic is one of its best employees. It is a dangerous situation where the self deception of both the employee and the company can lead to both sinking. Worse still, workaholism may even be reported positively in some staff appraisal formats.

Awareness in Asia

At this time we are in the early stages of awareness about the extent of the problem in Asia, but figures from other parts of the world indicate that longer and longer working hours are taking their toll.

'Karoshi' - the Japanese experience

The Japanese term for workaholism is 'karoshi' and it involves the concept of working yourself to death. A huge number of cases were seen in Japan's economic boom in the early 1980s but shortly after this, in a breakthrough for an enlightened HR environment, Japan legally recognised 'karoshi' as a work-related hazard. Since then, over 30,000 Japanese have been diagnosed as victims. The explosion of work-related deaths caused the Japanese government to legislate a national pension system for families of 'karoshi' victims. No other Asian nation have come anywhere near the Japanese model in their recognition of the effects of workaholism.


To read entire article, click here.

Source: Human Capital Asia - GAI


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