Blog: More on 'death from overwork' at Toyota
Dave Leggett | 6 December 2007
We recently ran an item that attracted quite a bit of interest about a Toyota worker in Japan who allegedly overdid the old overtime and paid the ultimate price in going the extra mile for his employer.
I got the impression it struck a chord out there.
It might be an extreme case (or is it?), but pressure to get the job done and show a bit of dedication to the cause has always been there in this industry - maybe more so in these difficult days than ever before. It's not necessarily a Bad Thing and I'm no clock watcher myself; I keep 'unconventional hours' checking email, keeping up with the auto industry online (a kind of addiction) or simply, and this may come as a shock to some people, writing and researching the stuff that you read daily on this website - this blog is effectively an 'add-on' (as I write, the perennial 'end of year review' management briefing is looming rather large in my bursting-at-the-seams pending tray).
And, let's face it, I'm not exactly a martyr - I actually enjoy doing what I do for a living and I have a reasonable lifestyle that goes with my profession/job. To enjoy what you do for a living is a fortunate thing for anyone to be able to say but I wouldn't want to lose sight of the fact that first and foremost, there's a need to make ends meet. And not everyone gets to do exactly what they want via the complex mechanism of the labour market.
'Getting the job done' can, of course, entail lumpy workflow that doesn't neatly fit 9-to-5 or your contracted hours and may mean a need to get the nose to the grindstone for an extended period (think product launches, timetables, critical sign-off dates...) . Goes with the territory and all that. Fine.
And there's (or should be) a kind of buzz that goes with that, too. The cold beer at the end of a long and tough week where you know that you excelled yourself, worked flat out and achieved what you set out to achieve (or more, even). Yep, you feel good about yourself and there's no substitute for that, whatever others may think about you. That cold beer tastes good. Heck, you deserve it. But it can go too far.
I like to think I have a sense of perspective and don't overly neglect other things in my life (I hate the cliched phrase 'work-life balance', but it sums it up - there's a balance to be struck, over time).
I'm very fortunate in that I have a fair bit of autonomy in how I manage my time, which suits me (not everyone, I know) but what if your time is 'mis-managed' for you or peer group pressures intervene to override sensible use-of-time considerations? Or if that proverbial cold beer moment is never there because the demands just keep growing, a neverending treadmill that's speeding up, your bosses apparently oblivious to the stress caused - or caught up in their own stress-o-spheres?
Aren't many people 'fortunate to be in work' in an industry that is seeing such transition and where so many people go out of the door, voluntarily or unvoluntarily? Maybe, but people still deserve to be treated like human beings rather than assets to be flogged for all they are worth.
And an overworked, unhappy individual tends not to be tremendously productive or creative, either.
We've all seen the corporate HR documents and sickly sweet caring employer pronouncements, the standard PC stuff. But what is the reality at the coal face? It is often, I fear, rather different.
I'm starting to get a small idea of the scale of things here in China, but really, I'm only scratching the surface of this vast country....
Given the startling complexity of obtaining a journalist visa for China - the code 'J2' is now indelibly stamped on my mind - it was with some surprise how swiftly I managed to sail through airport im...